Denmark moves toward green future
Soeren Hermansen, president of
the Energy Academy in Denmark and
2008 Time Magazine Environmental
Hero, spoke at the College on Tuesday
March 10 about a tangible example
of how, with the right combination
of will and grit, humans can achieve
the often idealized but seldom executed
value of sustainability. Samsoe,
the topic of Hermansen's talk, is the
famous fully sustainable Danish renewable
energy island. The lecture
was sponsored by the Goldfarb Center
for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement
and the Environmental Studies
Program and focused on issues of renewable
Hermansen was the man who originally proved that the Danish island of Samsoe is capable of fully producing its own energy. In his lecture, however, Hermansen made it clear that the credit for making the island self-sufficient in energy did not only belong to him. "The real heroes of this project are the islanders," Hermansen said. The island is a microcosm of environmental stewardship. Because it is selfcontained, it is the perfect place to work with new methods in sustainability because scientists can measure and control energy flow into and out of the island. The impetus for the move to energy self-sufficiency came during the oil shocks of the 1970s when no one was allowed to drive. Even after the oil shocks ended, Danes remained deeply affected. "We felt that an oil crisis meant something," Hermansen said. As a result, there were discussions over the future of energy, with a blueprint drawn up that called for a nuclear power plant. However, public objections to a nuclear power plant arose after the accident of the Three Mile plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. "In 1985, the government said, 'We are not going to have nuclear power in our time in Denmark,'" Hermansen said of the Danish response.
In 1997 the island of Samsoe became involved in the quest for energy self-sufficiency. Samsoe, with a population of 4,000 and an area of 114 square kilometers, was able to reach its goal after it won a contest by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy that called for projects in renewable energy. "We started the project in a funny way, actually," Hermansen said, explaining that the mayor of Samsoe joked that he would spend at least four more years in office if Samsoe won the competition.
"It's a windy area. Everyone feels the wind every day," Hermansen said of the advantages of having a renewable energy project in Samsoe. He added that the only question about using the wind was how to tame it. "We have had windmills for the last three hundred years," Hermansen said, stating that they historically have been used for agriculture. Hermansen noted that there were several difficulties in getting the project started. One such difficulty was that no one in Samsoe believed that they would see an offshore wind turbine within their lifetimes. A second problem was communication; although it was a small island, Hermansen had to negotiate with many people. "It's an ongoing process where we have to listen to what they say," Hermansen said. He added that there was initial reluctance to form working groups because of the fear that too much work was involved.
Hermansen commented that the project came through after initial reluctance when people recognized that they had to respect their traditional organizational structures, as the alternative would have been to put undue pressure on one person for the success of the entire project.
"Every individual lives in the center of the universe," Hermansen said of how people should approach energy issues. "We should act and think locally and behave where we are and do our best to do better." With the implementation of a renewable energy program in Denmark, Hermansen stated that more jobs would be created while Samsoe's economy would be enhanced. However, Hermansen cautioned that in order for policies centered on energy sufficiency to become a reality, brave and reliable politicians and reasonable budgets were needed. He also identified long-term targets as a necessity to ensure that alternative energies flourish.
Within Samsoe itself, Hermansen called straw the island's oil, noting that using a portion of it was the equivalent of 200 liters of oil. Individual people, small investor groups and the local municipality own the offshore wind turbines. An energy office was set up in Samsoe to raise further awareness of energy issues. "We help people organize themselves by having public opening hours," Hermansen said, explaining that workgroup meetings, open house meetings and information on how to increase the energy efficiency of houses were also given to people to spread the word on the importance of energy.
Hermansen ended the lecture by addressing sustainability in the United States. "We have great expectations for you guys," he said, noting that a major international conference on climate change sponsored by the United Nations will be held in Copenhagen this coming December. If the United States fails to agree to a new climate change policy, Hermansen said, everyone will be in trouble.