Island renaissance based on renewable energy production

This social innovation centres around the mobilization of island residents and public and private stakeholders to achieve energy independence through renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures, thus becoming a means to revive island communities.


Reference cases analysed within the scope of SMARTEES: Samsø (Denmark) and El Hierro (Spain).

Samsø, Denmark

In 1997, the Danish island of Samsø was entirely dependent on oil and coal, both imported from the mainland. At that point, it developed a 10-year plan that allowed covering 100% of its energy use from renewable sources (wind and district heating with CHP1). The project originated from the initiative of three citizens and was immediately supported by the municipality. Samsø won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community and later obtained funding at the local, regional and national level. One of the objectives of the Samsø project was reviving the local community endangered by unemployment and depopulation.

The founding of the Samsø Energy Supply Company, a local energy company funded and owned by the island’s citizens, was part of the transformation process. The core plan consisted of installing three district heating plants, eleven onshore and ten offshore wind turbines, and carrying out energy efficiency measures in 200 houses. Citizens contributed to the design and implementation of the plan through a series of workshops. Initially, islanders opposed the plan, mostly due to their reluctance to have wind turbines along the coastline. However, as the owners of the Samsø Energy Supply Company, the islanders eventually benefited from the realisation of the project, and a shift in the public opinion occurred. Therefore, the project was implemented up to 2007. Furthermore, the Samsø Energy Academy was funded.

Following its success in becoming self-sufficient through renewable energy production, Samsø is now committed to becoming a fossil fuel free island by 2030. Today, the islanders are smiling when it’s windy, and wind turbines became part of the Samsø identity.


1 Energy efficient combined heat and power production.

El Hierro, Spain

El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, has recently become one of the first isolated territories in the world able to cover its electricity demand in certain periods of the year using 100% renewable sources. El Hierro envisioned a sustainable growth model since the 1980s, and reducing fossil fuel dependence was one of the main objectives of the Sustainability Plan approved in 1997. Following this ambition, the island government constituted the energy company ‘Gorona del Viento’, an experimental wind-pumped hydropower plant, that has been operating since 2015. On average, El Hierro achieved almost 50% renewable electricity in 2017. In the first half of 2018, Gorona del Viento generated 100% of the island's electricity for 1,450 hours, saving 3,700 tons of diesel and 12,100 tons of CO2 emissions.

A strong political consensus and commitment for sustainability, public-private partnership mechanisms, the presence of public incentives and the development of a local network of qualified professionals were among the factors that made a full energy transition to renewable sources possible. Furthermore, El Hierro has become an attractive island to visit for students, scientists and tourists.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 763912. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the SMARTEES project. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of the European Union.