Orcadians have long known the potential of the energy around them, with the persistence and power of the wind. Wind energy has been harvested on the islands for generations, from the primitive windmills evident from the 18th century to the first grid connected wind turbines in the 20th century.

The wind, which for centuries before had been harnessed as a means of maritime transportation, has been used as a significant source of power on land. The energy from the wind has been used to mill grain and pump water, and allowed for small turbines to become popular as early as the 1930s. The Lucas ‘Freelite’, which was built in two versions, 12 volt and 24 volt machines, and supplied around 200 watts, was the most common.

Costa Head

The construction and testing of a prototype wind turbine began in 1951 and was developed by John Brown Engineering of Glasgow for the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board. The design was a 15.5 m diameter rotor, at 23.7 m and was rated at 13.4 m/s. With such high wind speeds the turbine was designed to automatically shut off in winds of over 70 mph.

The tower was built of steel and the foundations were on solid rock at the Costa Head site. In 1955 it became the first grid-connected wind turbine in the UK and led the way for further wind energy developments.

The turbine produced 80 kW of its 100 kW rating and was on the verge of being signed off as a success. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a hurricane in 1957, with wind speeds of up to 125 mph, and the project was cancelled.

 

Berriedale Farm

In August 1980 the Hydro Board released plans to have a wind generator operating in Orkney before the end of the year. That December Mr Marcus Wood of Berriedale Farm, South Ronaldsay became the first person in Britain to be supplied by a commercial wind generator. The machine, a Danish 22kW, three-phase generator, was 40 feet high and situated about a quarter of a mile from Berriedale Farmhouse. It supplied the farm with electricity at windspeeds of 12mph and upwards. In calm or extreme weather conditions the supply switched automatically into the mains. The Board bought the generator at a cost of £50,000 but a private individual could apparently have had it for around half the price.

Burgar Hill

In the 1980’s Burgar Hill became the new test site for wind energy projects. Three different turbine models were installed at the site by the Wind Energy Group, a joint venture between British Aerospace, GEC and Taylor Woodrow.

The third model installed in 1987, was a 3 MW LS1 generator, the largest experimental wind turbine of its time. The turbine operated until 1997 and was unfortunately demolished in 2000.

All three turbines have since been replaced by a collection of six wind turbines.

In 2015 the NM92 wind turbine became the first single UK turbine to generate 100,000,000 kWh (100 GWh) of electricity to the national grid.

Hammars Hill

In 2009, a new wind farm project began on Hammars Hill, with construction successfully completed in the autumn of 2010.

The project saw the addition of five Enercon E44 900 kW wind turbines with a tower height of 45 m, operating at wind speeds of 3 m/s and above.

The turbines continue to contribute up to 4.5 MW of electricity to the Orkney grid.

This project is an example of with 50% of the costs provided through local investment, with Orkney Islands Council (OIC) contributing £1 million, and the remainder provided through debt finance.

 

Electric car at Hammars Hill

Sanday

Spurness on Sanday has an exceptionally good wind resource for power generation. Sanday’s generally flat landscape is the perfect location for wind turbines, with few obstructions to reduce their performance.

Spurness wind farm was ‘repowered’ in 2012 where the original three 2.75MW Neg Micon turbines were decommissioned and replaced with five newer 2MW Vestas models.

Both the original and new wind farms were built using a significant proportion of local labour and resources and Orkney-based staff continue to provide services for the wind farm operation.

Community wind turbines

The Orkney wind energy story is not limited to commercial turbines, it also includes community-owned turbines and domestic and farm scale microgeneration.

Locals in Westray, Eday, Hoy, Rousay, Stronsay and Shapinsay have installed 900kW turbines, with the aim of providing revenue to put back into the community. Some of these communities are now working with Community Energy Scotland to find solutions to enhance the generation potential of the turbines.

Farm and Domestic wind turbines

Alongside this, there are over 700 small scale wind turbines in Orkney.

Approximately one tenth of Orkney households are generating their own power and Orkney hosts 10% of the UK’s domestic wind turbines, more than any other county in the UK.

Wind Turbine base being installed on Eday, Orkney
DSCN4725 - domestic turbine

Grid challenges

This large uptake in wind energy meant that by 2013 Orkney became a net exporter of electricity, generating 103% of its electricity needs. In 2020 this rose to 128%. This has resulted in the mitigation of 37,580 tonnes on average of CO2 per year between 2010 and 2017, then 45,040 tonnes in 2017, a 22% reduction from 2007 levels and a significant decarbonisation of Orkney’s electricity.

With the existing electricity distribution network in Orkney operating at full capacity, an effective ban on new grid connections on the islands was put in place in 2012. This was a major blow to the expansion of wind energy in the area.

Opportunities

Looking ahead, in 2018 a project by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to lay a 220 MW capacity cable from Orkney to the Scottish mainland has been put forward. In 2023, Ofgem approved the cable in principle with the addition of several new windfarms.

ScotWind Awarded Sites
ScotWind Awarded Sites
EMEC Floating Wind Test and Demonstration Site Artists Impresssion (Credit EMEC)
EMEC Floating Wind Test and Demonstration Site Artists Impresssion (Credit EMEC)

Offshore wind

Opportunities for offshore wind are currently being developed for waters surrounding Orkney.

ScotWind, a Crown Estate Scotland (CES) programme, agreed plans in January 2022 to lease areas of the seabed around Scotland for the development of offshore wind farms.

A total of 17 projects covering an area of 7,000 km² have been awarded in 15 locations around the Scottish coasts, with the total combined potential to generate around 25 GW of renewable energy using both fixed and floating structures.

Floating Wind

Innovative developments in floating offshore wind may soon be coming to waters surrounding Orkney. Projects are still in their infancy, with EMEC leading the way.

EMEC has proposed to develop a test site, approximately 20 km west of Orkney, with six berths for floating offshore wind turbines of up to 20 MW rated capacity. With an average windspeed of 10.7 m/s, water depths of 80-95 m and large waves the site will be ideal to test metocean conditions similar to those in ScotWind, Celtic Seas and future leasing rounds.