This year, the writers of The Green Spot have addressed many topics pertaining to climate change. From green building to the auto industry to political issues, we have painted a broad stroke. Most of the media coverage of environmental issues that we see on a daily basis is focused on the fight against climate change here in the United States. Although America is a very important piece of the puzzle, the effort of every nation is required to combat climate change. The road to carbon neutrality will be a long one, and it is critical that professionals from all over the world communicate with their peers in order to ease the transition to a healthier world.
In the spirit of international collaboration, the local Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club worked with members of the Empower Poly Coalition for more than a year to plan the European Smart Energy Study Tour. The purpose of the tour was for students to travel alongside political leaders and professionals to sites of energy policy and technology interest. After meeting with the men and women who made these unique sites possible, tour participants would be able to return to America and apply new ideas to their own work. Between March 24 and April 5, the tour group moved from England through Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark to finally end up in Sweden in search of energy solutions. Along the way, meetings were conducted with European political advisory councils, political agencies, energy planners and researchers.
With support from the civil and environmental engineering department, I was able to participate in the Smart Energy Study Tour. Along with several other Cal Poly students, I spent my spring break learning about the European fight against climate change. Although every site we visited was an incredible example of environmentally friendly technology and policy at work, one site was particularly inspiring.
Samso, Denmark is a small island about nine miles off the coast of mainland Denmark. With little more than 4,000 residents, Samso is primarily an agrarian economy. Although it has historically been renowned for the new potatoes it produces, Samso has recently been making money with another lucrative export: energy.
Since the installation of 11 one-megawatt wind turbines around the island in 2000, Samso has independently provided 100 percent of the electricity consumed by its residents. High winds from the North and Baltic seas spin the turbines year-round. With three 88-foot long blades apiece, they are an imposing sight as well.
An additional 10 wind turbines situated off the coast allow Samso to distribute excess power to mainland Denmark, Sweden and northern Germany. This power production venture has become a profitable project for the island, particularly since power distributors in many of the surrounded areas are required to preferentially purchase energy from renewable generators.
Through a creative funding program in which island residents purchased shares in the wind power project, much of the local population is invested in the turbines. Samso landowners have leased out one 400-square-foot plot of land for each turbine. Those residents who do not own a great deal of land also participated in the project by lending money for the purchase and installation of the turbines.
The local population not only takes pride in their 100 percent renewable electricity generation, they also appreciate the economic benefits of clean energy. Due to the success of the program, most of the residents of Samso are, in some way, making money from the wind turbines.
Samso is a good example of how a city with a local renewable resource can be used to provide more than enough energy to power the surrounding region. It is a great success story and drives home the point that renewable power is within our reach!
Matt Hutton is an environmental engineering senior, a member of the Empower Poly Coalition and an environmental columnist.