Scotland’s place as a renewables powerhouse of Europe has long been well established with our terrain, seas and geographical location key factors in this. For such a small country we are undeniably a rather wet and blustery one, with a strong capacity to generate renewable energy from a variety of sources.
Of course we have long recognised the potential of our impressive natural resources. Early in the previous century we began to harness the power and force of our rivers and lochs in order to generate electricity and this legacy continues to this day. Fast forward to the present and we are surging ahead with new and innovative ways of harnessing our other key natural resources – namely wind, wave and tidal power, much of which is centred around Scotland’s ‘remote islands’ of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.
In Orkney there is a strong focus on the development and deployment of wave and tidal technology. This has been so since 2003 with the creation of the European Marine Energy Centre on the island of Eday which is the only facility of its kind in the world for the testing of wave and tidal generators.
Although much of the technology for wave and tidal generation is still undergoing some development, Orkney’s location makes it an ideal testing ground for such arrays with the waters of the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and Caithness, experiencing some of the strongest currents in the world of up to 30 kilometres per hour. Given this, the Pentland Firth is now host to numerous wave and tidal arrays and 2018 recently saw one tidal turbine alone generating more electricity than all other tidal turbines tested in these waters since the European Marine Energy Centre was established in 2003.
Whilst the waves continue to rise around Orkney, in the Western Isles and Shetland the winds are picking up.
The location of the Western Isles and Shetland means that, whilst they are remote, they are exposed to strong winds which means that wind farms and turbines on the islands have a potentially high capacity for electricity generation. Their location and transmission requirements do, however, make them costly developments.
The recent announcement back in June 2018 of the UK Government’s support for “Remote Island Wind” developments being allowed to compete alongside new Offshore Wind developments for subsidies (in contrast to new onshore projects on the mainland, which are no longer eligible for subsidy assistance) means that, particularly in the Western Isles and Shetland, a big step forward has been made for mooted windfarm projects proceeding on these islands, although there are still some hurdles to overcome.
A key issue which has been a thorn in the side of some innovative and major renewables projects on the remote islands is the current lack of a suitable grid connection to export and sell the vast quantities of electricity that could be produced from such developments to the National Grid. Indeed part of the direction and future prosperity of our renewables industry in Scotland depends on the laying of interconnector or subsea cables linking renewables projects in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles to the National Grid. Plans for such cables are now underway and it is to be hoped that there will also be continued future support from both the Scottish and the UK Governments which will help ensure the viability and success of such renewables projects and their rural communities.
Of course it goes without saying that the challenges that face the development of wind, wave and tidal farms on our remote islands are directly related to their geography and separation from the mainland by sea, adding numerous different logistical and technical issues. Yet the capacity of these islands to be able to advance Scotland’s position as a renewables powerhouse of both Europe and the world, in terms of output and innovation, is huge.
The weather can be unpredictable and often changes in Scotland in a split second, yet it seems the future certainly looks wet, windy and bright for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and for renewables projects on these islands.
On October 4, 2018