Pioneering Orcadians have driven electric vehicles (EVs) around the islands long before they were commercially available.

From 2005, when a left-hand drive internal combustion car was converted to run on electricity, to EVs in 2022 making up over 5% of the cars in the county.

In 2019, the Orkney energy audit demonstrated that road transport was responsible for approximately 20% of the county’s fuel consumption. As Orkney continues its transition to running solely on renewable electricity, vehicular transportation remains one of the sectors holding the key to cutting emissions.

Increasing EV uptake

Since 2013, according to DVLA data, on average 42 electric vehicles (EVs) have come into Orkney per year.

More recently, following the launch of ReFLEX Orkney’s electric vehicle leasing service, there was a big spike with 194 EVs being brought into Orkney, more than tripling the numbers in Orkney in just a two-year period.

EV gathering Orkney 2021


The challenges impacting the uptake of EVs today include high purchase costs, performance and environmental concerns.

This has meant that a large part of increasing the uptake of EVs in Orkney has been around myth-busting, subsidies and demonstrations of the technology. One example of this was in 2015 with the drive from John o’ Groats to Land’s End and back again in a single weekend, carried out by Jonathan Porterfield and Chris Ramsay.

Battery life

Battery life

In terms of performance concerns, these mainly include issues with battery range and degradation. With continual improvements in battery technology, challenges that were common in the early days of EVs are now diminishing. For example, battery ranges in new vehicles have increased from around 40 to over 200 miles in present models with the expectation of continuing improvements.

Parallel to this is the improvement of battery life resulting from a better understanding of thermodynamics, and car owners’ ability to maintain their battery life with best practice charging and driving habits. The benefit of an EV is that when you brake, you can recharge your battery using regenerative braking.

Purchase costs

Purchase costs

Individuals are deterred from switching to an electric vehicle by the high purchase costs. Yet when the whole life cost of running an EV is considered, it is less expensive than a conventional car. Depending on individual electricity tariffs, charging an EV is typically cheaper than fueling a petrol or diesel car.

The growing second-hand market of EVs has helped increase the affordability of cars for many, in conjunction with the exemption from road tax and reduced maintenance costs. It is also worth looking at the current government grants available for low-emission vehicles.

In addition, ReFLEX Orkney has helped establish the Co-wheels car club in Orkney, a fully electric pay-as-you-go car hire scheme.



Emissions: The production and lifetime emissions of an electric vehicle are lower than that of an internal combustion engine vehicle, particularly in areas with high renewable energy generation. For example, a new Nissan Leaf EV bought in the UK in 2019 would have lifetime emissions some three times lower than the average new conventional car.

Batteries: The battery on an electric car is a proven technology that will last for many years. Nissan warrants that its electric car batteries will last 100,000 miles, and Tesla offers a similar guarantee. The main challenges being worked on today include cutting down on the use of scarce metals and improving their recyclability. With the growth in the electric vehicle industry, the recycling effort for batteries can become more efficient due to the economies of scale.

Today’s electric vehicle battery packs typically can outlive the vehicle they have been built into. For example, after 10 years of use, a Nissan Leaf’s 50kWh battery, will have lost at most 20% of its capacity. This means that when older EVs are sent to be scrapped, the battery can be repurposed for energy storage, to power small boats and various other electrical uses.


Since the UK Government announced a national ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, in 2022 the Scottish Government set targets to promote more sustainable transport options. This included the aim to reduce the number of car kilometres travelled by 20% by 2030 and to give funding to local authorities of £60 million over the next 4 years to develop the charging network in Scotland.

More specifically to Orkney:

  • HiTrans, has commissioned work to provide all local authorities with an EV Infrastructure Strategy and Action Plan which will relate to changes in the public charging infrastructure run by OIC.
  • In 2022 NorthLink ferries began assessing the risks of installing electric chargers on the ferries between Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland.

As projections for EV uptake in Orkney are forecast to grow and it is likely that we will develop a longer-term relationship with electric transportation including e-scooters, e-bikes, e-cars, to e-tractors, e-lorries, e-buses, e-vans, e-tractors, e-ambulances and e-mobility scooters to name a few.

2015 EV Challenge Land's End

EV Presentations