Going 100% renewables – how to actually make it happen

Can an entire region transform to being self-supplied by 100 per cent renewable energy in less than ten years? Yes, explains Søren Hermansen from Denmark who spearheaded his island’s efforts to become energy independent and even a clean energy exporter. Samsø has proved to the world that it is absolutely possible for communities to become self-sufficient when politicians and vested fossil fuel interests don’t get in the way.

Søren Hermansen visited Melbourne’s Sustainable Living Festival in February 2017 where he told his story to a packed audience:

Part 1: Søren Hermansen’s presentation.

Samsø is an island community of 4,000 residents. The island has received international recognition for leading the world in sustainable alternative energy, producing 10 per cent more than its residents use each year.

Søren Hermansen – called the “world-class Danish energy magician” by the Sustainable Living Festival – is leader of Samsø Energy & Environment Organisation and CEO of Samsø Energy Academy that teaches citizens around the globe how to live sustainably.

» Samsø Energy Academy’s home page: www.energiakademiet.dk

» Søren Hermansen’s Twitter account: @soerensamsoe

Part 2: Panel debate.

Søren Hermansen with Miriam Lyons from GetUp!, Taryn Lane from Hepburn Wind and Matthew Charles-Jones from Totally Renewable Yackandandah.

» Read more about the festival session on www.slf.org.au/event/soren-hermansen

The Australian contrast:

How a government can prevent it from happening

In June 2017, the Australian energy minister blocked an island’s renewable energy project because of the so-called “visual impact” of two wind turbines.

Lord Howe Island is 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia and, like other remote off-grid communities across the country, is heavily reliant on diesel generators that are costly to run and subject to volatile fuel prices.

It would seem like a natural place to install a couple wind turbines along with some solar panels and batteries to reduce these costs. Replacing diesel generators with wind turbines would also remove the risk of spillage when transporting the diesel across the ocean and across the island – and it would contribute to reducing the damaging consequences of climate change and global warming, which puts species and entire ecosystems at risk of extinction.

But after six years of feasibility studies and preparations, the island’s project which involved installing two unique tilt-up tilt-down turbines – at around half the size of the average land-based variety, a size that don’t need big cranes to install them – was suddenly halted when Minister Frydenberg ruled that the turbines’ visual impact on the island’s landscape were unacceptable.

» www.onestepoffthegrid.com.au

» State of Green – 30 May 2017:
308 Per Cent Green Electricity
“Undersea cables to the mainland are one of the reasons why Samsø has succeeded in integrating huge amounts of renewable energy, saving millions of DKK – and becoming world famous. Samsø itself now produces much more energy than is used on Samsø and the neighboring island of Tunø, turning electricity into a source of income. The local district heating plants buy straw from Samsø, so all in all the green island has reduced its fossil fuel costs quite considerably.”

EU Centre at the University of Melbourne:

Community Energy – Research Roundtable with Søren Hermansen

In 2007 Samsø became the first island in the world to be completely powered by renewable energy. Director of Samsø’s Energy Academy and project lead behind the transformation of the Danish island, Søren Hermansen, shared perspectives on the role of community energy in areas including environmental sustainability, community development, economic opportunities, equity and justice. Read the full report and download Søren’s presentation.

Hepburn Wind:

Celebrating pioneering communities

At Hepburn Wind, they call him “the Danish community energy guru” and a “world-class Danish energy magician”. Søren Hermansen’s visit to Victoria marked the beginning of a new partnership between his organisation, the Samsø Energy Academy, and Hepburn Wind, Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, which is located near Daylesford in Victoria.

Samsø Energy Academy is spreading knowledge and skills learned from Samsø Island’s rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. “After only one month this partnership is already spreading important knowledge and helping our shire plan for a zero-net energy future,” wrote Hepburn Wind recently in their newsletter.

To learn from the great work of Samsø Island, Hepburn Wind hosted an event called ‘Celebrating Pioneering Communities’ at their wind farm. With almost 250 attendees, the day brought together families, locals and travellers to hear from leading voices in the community energy sector.

Kate Auty, a sustainability expert and community leader in the Strathbogie Voices group, facilitated a discussion between Søren Hermansen, Ed McManus from Powershop and Hepburn Wind’s founding chair Simon Holmes à Court.

One day earlier, community groups came together in Daylesford to discuss and plan the future of community energy in our region. These local voices were working together and using the Samsø Energy Academy’s community energy workshop model.

After the weekend activities in Daylesford, Søren Hermansen gave an energising opening key note speech at the Community Energy Congress in Melbourne. Hosted by the Coalition for Community Energy the event brought together 600 people from community groups, energy developers and entrepreneurs to learn about and connect with community energy projects.

“Powering the future together” was the congress subtitle. It was all about Community power and making energy cleaner, fairer and cheaper, as one of the boards on the stage said, and Søren Hermansen kicked off the Community Energy Congress in Melbourne in high spirit.

Nicki Ison from Coalition for Community Energy opened the congress noting, so rightly, that our choice is not between clean and dirty energy, as the federal Australian politicians try to make people think. Our choice is HOW we transition to clean energy. Because the transition is inevitable.

And why? Well, first of all, 75% of Australia’s coal-fired powerstation are getting really old and need to be replaced. And when we look at what to replace them with, the fact in the energy business today is that renewables are cheaper. On top of that, Australia has a competitive advantage when it comes to renewable resources. And Australian people love renewables.

“So all we are here to figure out is how we will ensure that we can be making it happen faster. And fairer. We need to do this as fast as climate change demands and it must be done in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind. This is what this congress is about,” said Nicki Ison.

“We are onto something which is unstoppable,” agreed the Victorian minister for energy and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio in her opening speech shortly after, where she mentioned that the Victorian government currently expects to create 11,000 new jobs in the renewable energy sector. New stronger emissions reductions legislation has recently been established in the Victorian parliament promising that the state will reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.

» The Courier – 22 February 2017:
Soren Hermansen talks about waiting for winds of change
“Even in Denmark – where more than 40 per cent of the country’s power is generated by wind – there are still people who think turbines cause “all the illness in the world”, says renewable energy pioneer Soren Hermansen. Mr Hermansen’s island home Samso has been powered by 100 per cent renewable energy since 2007, a turnaround achieved within 10 years.”

“Anyone doubting the potential of renewable energy need look no further than the Danish island of Samsø. The 4,000-inhabitant island nestled in the Kattegat Sea has been energy-positive for the past decade, producing more energy from wind and biomass than it consumes.”

» The Guardian – 24 February 2017:
Energy positive: how Denmark’s Samsø island switched to zero carbon
“The small island’s energy makeover took less than a decade and was spurred on by local commitment, providing a template for how regional Australia could transition to renewables”

“Electricity bill shock has become a distant problem for residents in Soren Hermansen’s hometown in Denmark. It is far more likely they will receive a cheque in the mail for their power on Samso Island. The island is carbon neutral and runs on renewable energy, with power and profits flowing back into the community.”

» The Guardian – 5 March 2017:
Renewable power to the people could reap profits in Victoria
“Electricity bill shock has become a distant problem for residents in Soren Hermansen’s hometown in Denmark. It is far more likely they will receive a cheque in the mail for their power on Samso Island. The island is carbon neutral and runs on renewable energy, with power and profits flowing back into the community.”

» The Hepburn Advocate – 27 Feb 2017:
Energy pioneer praises Hepburn Wind
“Hepburn Wind has set an international example for community-led renewable energy innovation, Samso Energy Academy director Soren Hermansen said. Mr Hermansen was guest speaker at the Leonards Hill wind farm as part of the National Community Energy Congress on Sunday.”

Highlights from the Community Energy Congress 2017

The Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) organised the second Community Energy Congress in February 2017. This video captures the energy and inspiration of the event.

“What is clear to me from the last 24hrs is that there is a real sense of excitement and of opportunity to make the transition from coal based energy in Gippsland to something much better.”

» Blogpost by Peter Gardner – 12 March 2017:
Soren Hermansen in Traralgon by Baw Baw Sustainability Network

More about 100% renewables:

» Centre for Climate Safety:
100% renewables and the ‘yes but’