COA student in Samso, Denmark

With the second week on Samsø in full swing, I’ve been increasingly curious about what set their unprecedented energy program in motion.

Soren has been excellent at really unpacking the social aspects at play and his own role. Coupled with talks I’ve had with several  islanders, I’m beginning to get a clearer picture of what the motivators were in the community, from the top to bottom.

The picture that I’m left with is much more than a community just  embracing new technology on a whim, or because it felt an obligation to do so.

For instance, how big of a factor really did climate change play as a motivator amidst all of this community innovation? Among certain circles, I think people sometimes like to feel that this can be a societal motivator, but it seems to me here that it did not play such a major role in winning over the “masses,” so to speak.

Without a doubt, some of the most important and influential characters in the whole process have a deep concern for it, and it also perhaps had a role in the Danish policy making that created the “energy island” incentive. But when it comes to the individual farmers and residents that really make up this community, it seems from what I’ve gathered that it had little to no role at all.

Rather, it was sheer pragmatism that won the day, as well as Soren’s charming ability (who couldn’t like him? I can’t imagine the person) to placate even the most recalcitrant community members by showing them directly what they stood to gain.

In other words, even in Denmark in the 21st century, an eight-year payback on a very trustworthy investment still gains more leverage than the threat of melting ice caps.

This might sound cynical, but I actually don’t find it  bothersome in the least.

On the contrary, it tells me that if a few people with a vision are spread few and far between to set things into motion — even in the intellectual dredges of the United States change where creationism reigns — transitioning to renewables still might be enacted by sound capitalist logic, delivered well and personably.

There is one piece of this that is undeniably crucial, however, and that is the local, small-scale manner in which it was executed.

To be frank, if Samsø didn’t fund a large portion of this project from the bottom up, it wouldn’t be all that interesting. The fact that the people and the municipality actually own so many turbines and solar panels, and have also installed district biomass heating for themselves, is what is most worth replicating elsewhere, in my opinion.

Though they are still tied to the grid — and forced to buy back their own electricity at a five-fold rate, I might add — their financial self-sufficiency throughout this process is for me the takeaway message: That transitioning to renewables can simultaneously herald an era where distant  international energy companies don’t hold as much control over our day-to-day lives.

Luke Greco is a third-year student from North Haven, Conn. “I have a background in the visual arts, but I have become interested in sustainable energy and design in the hopes of channeling my creative interests into something that will be of service to people on a larger scale in the years to come. I am keenly interested in learning more about not just the individual generators of renewable energy, but overall sustainable design and building principles and methods, which use more natural or recycled materials and require less energy input from the start. Also of particular interest to me with this course is exploring the ways in which a community enacts the necessary measures to set up energy sustainable infrastructures, and all of the things that have or haven’t worked in the process.”