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Wind powers ahead in blustery Denmark

There is an undeniable excitement attached to the launch of a new series. With the rough brief being that Earth’s Frontiers was to be an environmental show, a host of warm and exotic locations sprang to mind.

A colleague from Atlanta was heading for the beaches of Hawaii to look at wave power.

Another, based in London, was off to see the solar power systems warming Spain. My destination: Samso — a barely populated (4,000 at the last count) Danish island which spends the majority of the year being lashed by ferocious gales that sweep in off the freezing sea.

I was going to look at wind power, and Denmark, it had been decided, was the perfect country to start with. Twenty percent of its electricity needs come from wind — a significantly higher proportion than any other country in the world. And within Denmark Samso stands out. A carbon-neutral community it exports more electricity than it needs.

The easiest way, from the UK at least, to travel to Samso is to fly to Arhus, catch a couple of buses and then jump on a ferry. This I achieved pretty easily — leaving was to turn out to be rather harder.

The coldest winter Denmark had experienced for almost 25 years meant the sea resembled a giant gray slush puppy. But, the cold aside, snow-covered Samso was undeniably beautiful and its wind-reliant residents hospitable and, in their own way, just a little heroic.

Jesper Kjems, from the Samso Energy Academy, is a handsome and convincing advocate for the green cause. He explained how the system works on the island. “100 percent of our electricity comes from on shore turbines,” he said.

“Then we have the offshore turbines which compensate for what we use in fossil fuels, heating and transport. All in all we send more energy to the mainland than we use.”
He soon provides the name of another man who has lived his entire life on Samso. An electrical engineer, Brian Kjær, who installed his own wind turbine.

He was, he explained, a little nervous at the time. “When I first had the idea to buy my own turbine I was a bit scared. Will it be difficult, what will go wrong, will it turn? But when I put it up I saw that it was actually not that difficult.”

The turbine now provides him with enough electricity to heat an 8,000 liter water tank, as well as charging his wife’s electric car. All in all he estimates the turbine helps him save around $5,000 a year in heating and electricity bills.

This all makes Samso sound rather idyllic — but when the last ferry is cancelled and the only restaurant open stops serving at 8pm the island takes on a rather different feel.

Consequently, we left in the early hours in search of a ship that would take us to Horns Rev 2 — the world’s biggest off-shore wind farm.

Set up by Danish company Dong Energy it comprises 91 turbines, which provide enough energy to power around 200,000 households.

The locals say that it takes a “special” kind of person to work on the wind farms. I took them at their word and made do with a very quick visit. Observed from on board a steady and warm ship, I thought the farm was, seen from a certain angle, rather beautiful.

Back on land we had another appointment to make with the CEO of Dong Energy, Anders Eldrup. He was keen to beat the Danish drum.

“The Danes have been the front runners in wind development. As you know we are the greatest producers of wind turbines in Denmark,” he said.

“Of course I have to admit that the reason there is a business is that there are some government subsidies attached to wind production. That goes for Denmark and that goes for other European countries where we are doing wind operations.

“I am a father. I have children, grandchildren. I want to see the planet in a good shape in the future. I’m concerned about the situation”

Concern about their country and, in turn, the state of the world appears to be what motivates the Danes. As one remarked to me as I headed for home. “They had actually done something not just talked about it.”

Via Tom Hayes of CNN