A technological revolution coupled with an abundance of natural energy in wind and waves has led to the Orkney islands producing more zero-emission energy than they can use themselves.
Over 16km north of the British coastline with a population of just over 22,000 people, Orkney is likely not one’s first point of reference in discussions about sustainability. Once totally dependent on fossil fuel power exported from the Scottish mainland, Orkney now represents one of the best examples of a low-carbon renewable future on the planet.
Locals have their electricity generated by community-owned wind turbines, almost all vehicles on the islands’ limited roads are electric-powered, and authorities are currently testing generators that produce electricity from the tide and ocean waves. These achievements are even more impressive considering the lack of help from mainland Britain.
“When people think of future technologies or innovation, they assume it has all got to be happening in cities,” Laura Watts, author of Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga, told the Guardian.
“But this revolution in renewable energy is being done in a place that lies at the very edge of the nation.”
Central to the Orkney sustainable revolution is the power generated from wind turbines. The islands are savaged by winds and gales year-round, with over 700 micro wind turbines generating about 120% of electricity needs among locals. Islanders have capitalised on this excess energy by taking up electric cars at a rate higher than anywhere else in the UK.
Other solutions for what to do with the excess energy are also being investigated, especially methods for energy storage. On the island of Eday, a renewable energy-powered electrolyser splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Once the hydrogen is isolated, it can be stored and later burnt to generate electricity when the islands experience windless conditions.
Orkney authorities and the European Marine Energy Centre are also planning to roll out hydrogen-fuelled seagoing car and passenger ferries as an alternative to the diesel-powered vessels currently in use.
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