A Just Transition for Orkney’s Future Transport?

Orkney’s ageing ferry fleet and how to de-carbonise heavy vehicles were up for discussion at the Sustainable Orkney Conference with the focus on Transport.


The conference has gone online for 2020 and this event on 3rd of November was the penultimate in a series of informative and lively discussions looking at where Orkney is now and where it would like to be.

The main speakers for the Transport session were experts in their field, David Hibbert, Technical Superintendent of Marine Services and Gavin Barr Director of Development and Infrastructure at Orkney Islands Council.

Orkney Islands Council runs the internal ferry fleet in the islands through Orkney Ferries. The fleet is an ageing one with an average age of 32 years. The oldest ferry in the fleet is the Golden Mariana still in service but to be replaced by the Nordic Sea. It is estimated that the Nordic Sea purchased last year by the OIC with additional funding from the Scottish Government, will come into service in March 2021 for the Papa Westray route. The Nordic (Not At) Sea

The council would like the Scottish Government to equip Orkney with replacement ferries for the whole fleet. What this new fleet would be like, how it would be powered and what extra shoreside infrastructure would be required has not been worked out – including costings.

David Hibbert expertly outlined the various choices available to decarbonise heavy vehicles, including ferries. Orkney, he said, has focussed on hydrogen with Surf & Turf, BIGHIT, Hyseas III, etc . You can read more about the OIC push for hydrogen as a fuel source here: H2 in Orkney

Alternatives also include Caledonian LNG (from biomass) and LCTT (Low Carbon Travel and Transport). LCTT hubs provide refuelling facilities for a range of alternative fuels and transport modes. 

LCTT also promotes more active means of travel : cycling, pathways and bus usage.

Passenger numbers for bus usage in Orkney is on the increase. The service run currently by Stagecoach runs a fleet of old buses. There is one electric bus, running since 2015, which was funded by the Scottish Government.

The third speaker Eibhlin Lee took us through the stats of Electric Vehicle ownership in Orkney which is one of the highest in Scotland. There are 230 EVs in Orkney and about 40 hybrid vehicles. To buy outright these cars are expensive so there are alternatives such as leasing or being in a Car Club where you hire the car when you need it. EV Car Clubs Transforming Personal Transport

(Left)Tony Archer(Scottish Manager of Co-wheels car club) (right) Robert Lesley(Energy Officer of Orkney Housing Association Ltd) by Kenny Armet

Several Island Development Trusts have been able to source EVs for community use: Shapinsay, Hoy, Eday, and Rousay Egilsay & Wyre for example. The OCTO (Dial-a-bus) also has 2 electric vehicles which people can book.

There are 25 locations in Orkney where there are public charging points with more coming on stream soon. Interestingly 20% of EVs in Orkney are registered to businesses.

There are lots of choices to be made in Orkney for its future Transport needs. The ferries, both the internal fleet and those to the Scottish mainland use eyewatering amounts of marine diesel oil, Northlink SERCOs Hamnavoe 1,800l an hour for example. Even the privately owned MV Alfred, still is MGO based, however is much more efficient.

Farm machinery, trucks, lorries – these are all important heavy vehicles keeping Orkney’s economy going and so far there are no suitable replacements for them.

Many people are also loathe to give up on the convenience of using personal vehicles – including those who have EVs and hybrids. The Sustainable Orkney Conference session on Land Use did cover the issue of cycle and pedestrian pathways to promote more active travel. “Regenerative farming is the way to go.”

A cycle route in Kirkwall ends half way to the ferry terminal, in an industrial estate

Whenever we discuss the climate emergency it is important to keep to the fore the values of a Just Transition which should underpin all the decisions being made – at every level – governmental, organisational and individual.

Is still clinging on to a future where personal vehicle ownership, with all its necessary infrastructure of roads, car parks and charging points, the way forward ?

Would an expansion of public transport, buses, ferries and trains, which are able to move around many more people than a single car, be the future we would like to see?

Where does cycling and walking fit in to Orkney’s transport future?

What of all that heavy machinery keeping the islands vital food and agricultural sector going?

And what about air transport so vital to many communities in providing a fast link to essential medical services?

Transport is a massive contributor to climate change. It underpins the working of our economy and our social connections. To achieve a Just Transition extremely hard decisions have to be made but to insure it is a fair and equitable one those decisions must take the public along with them. Consultations and research should be undertaken now to move Orkney forward on its future transport needs and direction.

The next and final talk in the Sustainable Orkney Conference, hosted by OREF, Tuesday 10th of November at 7pm via Zoom, is on Energy Consumption.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

You may also like

Ellen : “The Tesla of the Sea”

Leave a Reply