Orkney is home to the highest concentration of small and micro wind turbines in the UK, as well as several larger community owned and commercial turbines, one locally owned wind farm, and one commercial wind farm. Wind power is the main energy source that allowed Orkney to become a net energy exporter in 2013 & 2014.
Small Scale Wind Energy
There are over 500 domestic scale wind turbines in Orkney, meaning that the county is home to more domestic turbines than any other county in the UK. This figure all the more impressive given that Orkney also has one of the lowest populations of any British county. Data from the OREF Microgenerator Database reveals that wind turbines in Orkney very productive, especially over the winter months. Based on the database figures, it is estimated that Orkney’s micro wind turbines have saved over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions to date.
Communities in Westray, Eday, Hoy, Rousay, Stronsay and Shapinsay have all erected 900kw turbines, with aim of providing revenue to put back into the community. Although some have suffered heavy curtailment due to non-firm grid connections, all these turbines have produced credible performance figures and have provided some income to be reinvested into the local community. Several of these communities are now working with Community Energy Scotland to find innovative solutions to allow them to utilise more of the generation potential of their turbines.
The Hammars Hill wind farm consists of five Enercon E44 wind turbines, and contributes up to 4.5MW of electricity to the Orkney grid. This project is an excellent example of a locally-owned wind energy development, and has the local authority, Orkney Islands Council, as the largest investor. The project was financed on the basis of 50% equity and 50% debt finance, with 90% of the equity held within Orkney. Since its establishment in 2010, Hammars Hill has proved to be very productive and has provided excellent returns to all investors.
The Burgar Hill wind energy project began as a research site in the early 1980s, and over the last three decades has seen a variety of wind turbines installed, originally for research purposes and latterly for commercial generation. The site currently has six turbines, varying in scale from the Nordex N60 1.3MW turbine to the 2.75MW Neg Micon NM92, with tip heights varying from 76m to 116m. Burgar Hill hit the headlines in April 2015, when the NM92 became the first single turbine in UK to generate 100,000,000kwh of electricity to the national grid. Burgar Hill is also thought to be one of the best situated wind farms in Europe, with good wind speeds year round.
The ban on new grid connections in September 2012 was a major blow to the expansion of wind energy in the area, and current curtailment due to a lack of grid capacity has proved frustrating for existing turbine owners without a firm grid connection.
There are a number of active approaches to this issue. There is a current project by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to enhance the power network within Orkney and lay a 220MW capacity cable to the Scottish mainland. Conditional approval has been obtained from Ofgem subject to an additional 135MW of generating capacity coming online in due course. Commercial wind farms under development at Costa Head and Hesta Head are projected to deliver 40MW of this, and the Orkney Islands Council have scoped proposals for three additional community wind farms: on Hoy, on Faray, and at Quanterness.
In addition, the Big Hit project (formerly Surf and Turf) will open further possibilities of converting surplus electricity into hydrogen for use either at a different time or in a different place, and the ReFlex project will develop opportunities for other means of energy storage.