The Orkney Islands, one of the northern most groups of islands in the UK, is possibly the most innovative due to the successful development of renewable energy. In fact, it now produces 100% of its net energy from renewables.

We’re shining a spotlight on the Orkney Islands to learn more about how they produce energy from renewable sources with great success rates and how we think it will impact us all in the near future.

Fossil-fuel dependent, Orkney has relied on this resource for transport to and around the island (both private and public), heating households and for their key industry, agriculture.

 

As the 21,000 populates are quite widely dispersed, private transport use is favoured. So the interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology and potential use of biofuels is of great importance. Not only is the population scattered but they also have to deal with the sometimes harsh weather conditions that come with living on Orkney. Due to this many households are classified as being in fuel poverty, which means that 10% of their income is spent on domestic energy consumption. However, with 500 domestic wind turbines on the island, it appears the residents are ready to tackle the energy challenge that faces us all.

 

As fossil fuel resources’ scarcity increases, as does its price, hence why the Scottish and UK Governments are big supporters of renewable energy. The target is to raise specifically the electricity consumption from renewable resources from 40% to 50% by 2020. Orkney Council aim to comply with this but also ensure that energy supply is secure, affordable and aligns with the renewable targets to eliminate fuel poverty, lessen CO2 emissions and energy consumption.

Since the 1980s the islands have tested the potential of its on-hand resources, such as wind and tidal energy. Although as early as 1951, the first grid connected wind turbine was tested, proving Orkney has a head for innovation and forward thinking. Further proving this in 2004, the world’s first grid connected offshore device prototype, developed by Pelamis, used wave energy to generate electricity.

 

In 2013, thanks to a collaboration between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Scottish Hydro Electric Power, to develop an energy storage system which uses the distribution grid, Orkney became the a net electricity exporter. It produced 103% of its electricity needs from local renewable sources, which increased to 104% in 2014 and in the same year exported 11,263MWh.

Seemingly, this small cluster of islands is big on firsts, as early this year (2015) its 2.75MW turbine at Burgar Hill was the first in the UK to generate over 100GWh to the national grid.

So what can be learned from Orkney  and its renewables?

I think it’s a successful example of how renewable energy can be a positive impact on a community, and meet the required needs and some. As it is on a smaller scale, it is easier now to see how this can be scaled up and expanded throughout the UK. Sadly, it seems the national grid is lagging behind. With Orkney producing more energy than it needs, its export potential has increased and surpasses the current amount that can presently be exported through the two submarine cables.

We’ll be keeping a keen eye on what other developments will happen on Orkney and what role it will play in expanding this to the rest of the UK.