The entire world is discussing global warming and the EU has proposed a plan to increase the use of renewable fuels to 20 percent of energy use by 2020. Among EU countries, Denmark has made the greatest efforts and is considered the most successful in pushing for green energy use. It is taking a global lead in wind power, which provides about 20 percent of its electricity needs. It even produces a surplus of wind energy, which it sells to Germany.
However, any given country is still far from the goal of being "carbon neutral" -- ie, energy carbon emissions are offset by the carbon absorbed in the regeneration of fuels. The only exception is Denmark's green energy island, Samsoe Island, where residents still manage to lead a normal life. This has made the 100km2 island and its 4,000 residents famous worldwide.
In 1997, Samsoe's residents joined a competition under the government's Renewable Energy Island project. They won, and in 1998 became Denmark's first renewable energy island.
The island's residents have worked together to develop renewable energy ever since. Not only have they built wind-powered electricity generators, but they have also started to use semiconductor thin-film solar cells. They have also connected their power generators to the mainland so they can sell excess energy to power plants, which they can regain when they experience energy shortages.
Since it is very cold in Denmark, hot water is needed in every household, and so a water heating plant was built on the island. Solar power and organic fuels are used to heat the water.
The main mode of transportation on Samsoe is bicycles and farming machines are fueled by biodiesel made from grape seed and other sources.
When the media from around the world visit Samsoe, residents are happy to show how wind power has generated extra income, which they have used to build more wind-powered turbines along the coast.
When asked why they use thin-film solar cells -- which are much more expensive than regular energy -- they gave an answer worth contemplating. They said that solar power does not generate greenhouse gases, so it does not contribute to global warming or destroy the environment for our children and this makes them feel at ease.
A 40-acre field of semiconductor thin-film solar cells was recently built in a remote part of Portugal. It provides energy for about 8,000 villagers and its costs are expected to be recovered in just a few years. The efficiency of multilayer-film solar cells now exceeds 30 percent, and if widely used, it may be soon able to compete with fossil energies.
In response to public calls, Taiwan's government is planning to use energy prices to reduce consumption and levy taxes based on energy use, but there has been no word on when this system will be implemented.
Meanwhile, the National Science Council and the Bureau of Energy under the Ministry of Economic Affairs are planning to promote green energy and industry, but the political infighting appears to have delayed these efforts.
The problem is that global warming waits for no man. Politicians should at least work together on environmental protection and public livelihood issues and do some good for future generations.
Tsong Tien-tzou is a research fellow in the Institute of Physics at Academia Sinica.
Translated by Eddy Chang