In 2013, Orkney produced 103% of its total electricity needs through renewable energy sources upping this figure to 104% in 2014. At first glance, it might seem remarkable that a small group of islands lies at the cutting edge of renewable energy development and implementation in the UK. Perhaps the clue that explains why Orkney is playing a world leading role in the adoption and development of renewables lies in the word “islands”. Standing between the Atlantic and the North Sea, Orkney is home to some of the most energy-rich waters in Europe, some of the strongest winds, and a community that have embraced the potential of the islands with open arms.
Orkney’s outstanding wave and tidal resources made it a natural site for EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, where new seagoing technologies are put through their paces in challenging wave and tidal conditions. With more grid connected ocean energy devices tested in Orkney than at any other single site in the world, EMEC has put Orkney at the very forefront of marine energy technology worldwide.
Leading the World
This isn’t the first time new renewable technology has been pioneered in Orkney, with the very first grid connected wind turbine tested here on Costa Head in the 1950s. Today, the county is home to approximately 500 domestic turbines, more than any other county in the UK, as well as several larger scale wind farms and community owned turbines. With 1 in 12 Orcadian households generating electricity from renewable sources, Orkney has the highest proportion of households making their own electricity of anywhere in the UK. Orkney can therefore be seen as a pioneer of a decentralised energy system that is still just being talked about in the rest of the country.
As a response to the limitations of insufficient grid capacity, Orkney is currently also home to various innovative schemes. In 2009, the county became home to the UK’s first ‘smart grid,’ which uses a new Active Network Management approach to make better use of the existing network by instructing generators to control their output, in real time, to match the available network capacity. Additionally, in 2013 Orkney’s network became home to a 2MW battery as pioneering investigation into how large scale batteries could play an important role in the release of capacity on the electricity distribution network and resolution of intermittency issues affecting renewable generation. Other options for energy storage or large scale increase in demand are being investigated to ease grid constraints, and the county is currently home to nearly 4 times the national average of electric vehicles per capita.
Timeline of Key Events
1951 – The first grid connected wind turbine in the UK is tested at Costa Head, Orkney.
1980’s – A series of wind turbines are tested on Burgar Hill, producing results that contribute to the development of the wind energy sector
1984-2000 – Orkney is home to the largest wind turbine in the world – a 3MW twin bladed concrete monster.
2000 – A prototype 1.5 MW wind turbine is erected on Burgar Hill, followed by another 2MW prototype.
2001 – Orkney is chosen as the base for the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), a first for the marine renewables industry globally.
2002 – A 2.75MW turbine is erected at the Burgar Hill test site.
2003 – The EMEC real sea wave test site is established at Billia Croo, near Stromness.
2004 – The UK’s first whole locally owned turbine is erected in Burray, funded entirely by local private investors.
2004 – Wave energy developers Pelamis successfully generate electricity to the grid with their first full scale prototype at the EMEC test site. This generation of electricity by a grid connected offshore device was a world first.
2005 – EMEC’s tidal test site is established at the Fall of Warness, off the island of Eday.
2006 – Scotland’s first commercial scale tidal enery device, Open-Hydro’s Open-Centre Turbine is successfully installed at EMEC’s Fall of Warness test site.
2008 – Orkney remained at the forefront of community wind power, with applications lodged for 6 community wind turbines.
2013 – Orkney becomes a net electricity exporter, producing 103% of its electricity needs from local renewable sources.
2014 – 104% of Orkney’s electricity needs produced from renewable sources, with a net export of 11263MWh. (Aquatera, 2015)
2015 – The 2.75MW turbine at Burgar Hill became the first in the UK to generate over 100GWh to the national grid.