Breathtaking. That's the only way to describe the 10 massive 2.3 megawatt turbines off the coast of the island of Samso in Denmark. But the story behind the improbable feat of transforming a very conservative rural island, known mostly for pigs and potatoes, into the world's leading case study for 100 percent renewable communities is all the more impressive.

We heard the story firsthand by a stroke of good luck. On our ferry was none other than Soren Hermansen (and his dog, Feta). Soren was named one of Time magazine's Environmental Heroes of 2008 for his 10 year effort to make Samso carbon neutral. He is now the director of the Samso Energy Academy and a veritable rock star in the world of carbon-free energy. 

Soren was just on his way home from a trip to Japan where he keynoted a conference on local renewable power and met with Mitsubishi and Toyota officials in preparation for an upcoming case study for the electric car concept called Better Place, a battery-swapping program that is incredibly ambitious but could give Denmark the opportunity to scale its wind infrastructure far beyond its current 20 percent of total energy generation. (I'll write about this another time, but essentially the idea is that the car batteries act as energy decentralized storage, solving the problem of wind power's intermittency.)

The greatest feat in the Samso project was the innovative cooperative financing model that Soren created. An ad was run in the local paper offering shares in the speculative wind project. About 450 locals bit, a band of crusty old farmers essentially self-financing a high stakes cleantech venture (with the assistance of a hefty prize and tax incentives given by the Danish government).

You can read more about the Samso on my blog post from a while back, shortly after Samso beat itself in the carbon-zero game by becoming the first body of land to go carbon-negative, net exporting clean energy.

That feat was in some ways good luck. After the island achieved the goal of supplying all electricity via wind (on land), it decided to create enough wind power to offset its oil and gas usage. Ten offshore wind turbines were planned, but the engineers slightly underestimated the turbines' ability to generate wind off shore and so a 10 percent surplus of power is now generated on Samso annually, power which is fed back to the central grid in Denmark.

Soren now heads up the Energy Academy on Samso, a think tank and education center which is helping the rest of Denmark and other cities around the world to go carbon-free. The strategy — encouraging local and state officials, investors and engineers to abandon their old 20th century brains for shiny, new ones that think outside the box on the complex issues surrounding energy, community development and business in a fledgling 21st century carbon-free world.

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