Friday, April 22, 2011

Energy Island

How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed their World
Written and illustrated by Allan Drummond
$16.99, ages 6-10, 40 pages

A Danish island where hats are always flying off heads learns to harness the energy of the wind and takes itself off the grid.

In this remarkable true story, Drummond tells about the people of Samso who used the very thing they couldn't escape from -- buffeting winds -- to work for them.

In 1997, Denmark's government designated the island as its "renewable energy island" -- a region that could eventually run completely on free, nonpolluting energy thanks in a large part to its windy location.

Since then, the island off the Jutland peninsula has become almost entirely energy independent through the use of wind turbines, as well as district heating plants, biomass and solar panels.

It's even able to export surplus electricity from those turbines to the mainland and it has eliminated its carbon emissions by 140 percent.

That means if you were to look for a carbon footprint there, you wouldn't find one.

But becoming a green island wasn't quick and it wasn't easy.

This is a story about ordinary people who, at first, weren't so sure they wanted to fuss with clean energy.

They didn't think about where their energy came from and they weren't very motivated to conserve it:

They switched on lots of lights, turned up heaters too much, used hot water without thinking, and expected oil to arrive by tanker ships or trucks and their electricity through cables.

Sound familiar? That's partly what makes this story remarkable -- they were people very much like everyone else.

Then one day, the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy planted the idea that Samso could be more than a fossil fuel consumer.

Though the government didn't step in and tell them how to do that, they did appoint someone who wasn't likely to give up.

A teacher named Soren Hermansen was asked to lead the project and right away he had students energized about ways the island could switch over.

They saw the potential of the sun's energy, island crops, their legs and the very air that turned their toy pinwheels.

But the grownups weren't so gung-ho. Many feared the cost -- the government designation didn't come with prize money, tax breaks or government subsidies.

And they liked the way things were and didn't really see what difference one little island could make.

Hermansen, however, kept working on them and touting the benefits of clean energy. Though nothing happened for years, more and more people thought his ideas made sense.

Then one day, a local electrician and a farmer decided to invest in a couple of wind turbines, one very small the other very big.

For awhile nobody followed suit, but then a snowstorm hit the island and cut off electricity and every house went dark -- except the farmer's, Mr. Kjaer's.

"Sure enough, the blades on Mr. Kjaer's new turbine were whooshing and whirring in the wind!" Drummond wrote, and after that, everyone wanted to know how they could do it too.

Suddenly, the islanders were bursting with energy-saving ideas: one farmer installed solar panels, another made tractor fuel from his canola crop, soon whole villages were heated by burning wood and straw that was grown on the island.

And all across the Samso, it looked like as if the land had sprouted a crop of giant-size pinwheels, as 10 turbines were erected at a cost of $40 million.

Soon the world learned about Samso's success and clamored to tap into nonpolluting energy too, so the island set up the Energy Academy to teach what they learned.

Today, Samso is hailed as everything from "the little island that could" to "an ecotopia for climate protection."

Readers will notice that children appear on the cover and throughout the story holding toy pinwheels up to the wind. It is a poignant symbol, for in Chinese culture, the pinwheel has long symbolized turning obstacles into opportunities, and here, the islanders did just that.

Although wind can be a hindrance and annoying (it can be loud, give you a chill and make you want to hide out indoors), in harnessing it for energy, an island was a able to clean up its part of the world.

It makes you think, what other kinds of clean energy could we tap into? As Drummond likes to say, "Hold on to your hats!" -- with a little hard work, perhaps we could all be energy independent too.

Watch for Drummond's next picture book, the second in a series on innovative green projects, Green City, about conservation efforts in Greensburg, Kansas.

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