Orkney’s pristine environment is the lifeblood of the islands, underpinning everything from our agriculture and tourism, to our world class food, drink and creative industries.
As such, Orcadians have long embraced the concept of renewable energy, recognising that sustainable electricity generation represents the ideal fit for a community so economically reliant on an unspoiled landscape and clean oceans.
Indeed, over 100 per cent of the islands’ electricity needs are now regularly met from local renewable sources, with one in ten Orcadians generating their own power – well above the national average.
Renewable energy technologies
Perhaps unsurprisingly, wind turbines provide the bulk of this output. You'll spot numerous domestic devices on a drive across the islands, and there are large scale community and privately-funded turbines too. Orkney Islands Council is aiming to build three wind farms with many of the financial benefits going to local communities.
A major offshore wind project, the West of Orkney Windfarm, is being developed too, which could see 2GW of power generated from the array around 30km off the west coast of the islands. If successful, the project could go live by 2029. View the Virtual Exhibition to find out more.
As well as wind turbines, solar panels are increasingly becoming a feature on homes and buildings around Orkney. Heat pumps are also widely used throughout the islands, with several large public buildings utilising this heating solution. Orkney Islands Council’s Warehouse Buildings in Stromness, which include the town’s library, even use a sea-source heat pump to absorb warmth from water in the local harbour.
In all, Orkney is home to over 1,000 domestic renewable energy installations – not bad in a community of 21,600.
You might also notice lots of electric vehicles (EVs) driving on Orkney’s roads – the islands have the highest number of EVs per head of population in the UK, with many owners charging up their cars from their own wind turbines. Public charging points are available throughout the islands too.
Renewable energy pioneers
Against this enthusiastic, low-carbon backdrop, Orkney continues to lead the way globally with efforts to harness the massive energy contained within the planet’s waves and tides.
The focus for this pioneering work is the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Stromness. Set up in 2003, EMEC is the first and only centre of its kind in the world to provide purpose built, open sea testing facilities for the developers of both wave and tidal energy converters – machines that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams.
EMEC’s presence has created new jobs and sparked the growth of an entirely new industry in Orkney, with dozens of local businesses diversifying into the marine energy field.
And Orkney’s so-called knowledge economy continues to expand around the developing renewables sector in the islands. Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University, based at the new Orkney Research & Innovation Campus (ORIC), has a long-established campus in Stromness that specialises in advanced research, postgraduate training and consultancy in marine energy and related fields. Developments like ORIC reflect the confident mood around the renewables sector in these green and clean isles.
Innovative, enterprising and passionate about a sustainable future, Orkney is proud to be leading the global renewable energy charge.
Find out more about Orkney's renewable energy expertise with our video below, produced in partnership with the Orkney Renewable Energy Forum for broadcast at the 30th Orkney International Science Festival.