This article first appeared in the May/June edition of iScot Magazine.
By Fiona Grahame Images By Martin Laird
Orkney produces over 100% of its energy needs by renewable power. This is mainly wind although there are a variety of other renewable sources.
The council’s Warehouse Buildling which houses Stromness Library uses a sea source heat pump. It uses warmth absorbed from Stromness harbour to provide heating for the buildings.
Ground source and air source heat pumps have been installed in some homes and buildings. Solar panels too have been fitted, especially to new builds where they can be flush with the roof.
At Grainbank, Kirkwall, Orkney Builders have collaborated with SOLO Energy to build 30 well insulated houses. Tesla batteries make the best use of solar generated power storing it up until it is needed. All operated by cloud based technology.
Indeed so much renewable energy is being created in Orkney that the 2 subsea cables connecting to the Scottish mainland and the National Grid cannot cope. The project to lay a third cable is still in its early stages.
One solution to the problem of over production was to produce hydrogen fuel from the excess electricity generated. The Surf ‘N’ Turf project takes tidal power generated at devices located at the European Marine Energy Centre test site at the Fall of Warness, Eday, and the Eday Renewable Energy community-owned onshore wind turbine. The surplus electricity goes to a 500kW electrolyser, which generates hydrogen by splitting water. This is then stored as compressed gas to be transported on a trailer by road and sea to Kirkwall. There it powers a fuel cell to generate clean electricity on demand.
Orkney aims to be a ‘smart energy island’ – developing a ground-breaking ‘virtual energy system’ which will monitor generation, grid constraint and energy demand. The ReFLEX Orkney (Responsive Flexibility) project is all about ‘flexible energy balancing technologies’ with Solo Energy implementing their FlexiGrid software platform enabling smart monitoring and control of the flexible technologies to charge during periods of peak local renewable generation and release stored energy during times of peak demand. This ‘smart energy system’ will manage the supply and demand of energy.
Mark Hamilton from Solo Energy said:
“We can have all the wind and solar farms we want but unless we have the means to store and balance renewables we will never fully wean ourselves off fossil-fuels and get to the root of the climate change problem.
“Orkney is a perfect location to demonstrate how high levels of local renewable generation combined with intelligent flexible demand can deliver full energy autonomy and lower consumer energy bills.”
Quick to take up Electric Vehicles/Hybrids (EVs) 90% of them in Orkney are in business or private ownership. Last year there were almost 170 EVs in the islands with an astounding 2.3% of the population owning an EV.
There are, however, two sides to every story and Orkney’s phenomenal success in producing renewable energy has not reaped financial benefits to a significant proportion of the population.
In Scotland 24.9% of households live in fuel poverty. This means that 10% or more of their income is spent just keeping their homes heated and warm. In Orkney the rate of fuel poverty is a shocking 57%.
For fuel poverty to exist in an island producing an excess of renewable energy for its needs is the clearest evidence of the inequality that is built into the system. Orkney has no mains gas, many homes still rely on domestic oil as their main source of heating and consumers pay the highest tariffs for electricity from the National Grid.
A Bill passed in the Scottish Parliament will change the definition of fuel poverty. The new definition will also take into account if net income is insufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living once fuel costs have been deducted. The proposals in the Bill do not seek to eradicate fuel poverty but to reduce it to 5% by 2040 or 140,000 homes. The Scottish Government does not believe it can eradicate fuel poverty.
What is most disheartening about the Fuel Poverty Bill is the acceptance that a nation exporting renewable produced energy does not have the ambition or the means to eradicate fuel poverty. As in Orkney, whilst some can afford EVs and live in homes with built in renewable energy sources, for thousands, fuel poverty will continue and EVs remain too expensive to purchase. Not until Scotland has full control over Energy production and transmission will Scots benefit from the abundance of our natural resources.