Renewable energy has really taken off in Orkney during the last 10-15 years, however the islands have a strong history of utilising the natural energy potential of the area.
Orkney has a long history of harvesting power from the wind, with primitive windmills evident in the area as from the 18th century onwards. Interestingly, Orkney’s history of utilising domestic scale renewables can be traced back as far as the 19th century. Crude amateur windmills, driven by four to six canvas sails, were used to provide power for small meal mills on Orkney farms during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Remains of these turbines can still be seen on the ruins of houses scattered across the country.
While there are only a very small number of domestic scale hydro schemes in operation in Orkney today, water power was also commonly used to run machinery in earlier centuries . You can still see several ruined watermills and abandoned waterwheels in the county, and two of these mills are still in working order. Click Mill is the last surviving horizontal watermill in Orkney, while Barony Mill is still fully operational,
The first step towards the modern day renewable energy industry in Orkney began with the testing of the first grid connected wind turbine in the UK at Costa Head, Orkney in 1951. Despite this turbine’s unfortunate demise in some typically stormy Orkney conditions, Orcadians were not put off. In the 1980’s Burgar hill became home to an experimental 3MW 2 bladed concrete turbine. Inaugurated in 1987 as an experimental machine, this £17 million giant was the largest of its kind at the time. The 3MW turbine remained standing at Burgar Hill until its demolition in 2001, by which time Burgar Hill was home to a further three experimental NEG Micon wind turbines, rated between 1.3 and 2MW. During the same year, a recommendation by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee set the wheels in motion for the establishment of the European Marine Energy Centre, setting Orkney firmly on the path to a renewable future.