• The SR2000 tidal energy device testing at EMEC's Fall of Warness test site - image by Orbital Marine Power

Orkney rewarded for renewable energy expertise

The islands have been included in a special EU prize showcasing sustainability efforts across the continent.

Decades of renewable energy innovation in Orkney have been recognised on an international level.

The islands have been awarded €100,000 as part of the inaugural EU RESponsible Island Prize, funded by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme.

Orkney came third overall, behind the Danish islands of Bornholm and Samsø, following an evaluation by an international panel of independent experts.

The Responsible Islands Prize was launched in March 2019 by the European Commission to reward islands making real steps towards building proper sustainable communities, recognising achievements in local renewable energy production for electricity, heating, cooling and transport.

Orkney's success comes because of the percentage of renewable electricity produced by innovative energy technologies locally, environmental and socio-economic sustainability, community involvement, and the replicability of the Orkney approach.

Orkney has been home to renewable energy innovation for more than 60 years, with ground-breaking wind test sites located in the islands from the 1950s to the present day. Over the last 20 years there have been huge developments, from increased energy efficiency and the installation of wind turbines, to the establishment of a world-leading marine energy test site and the introduction ofinnovative heating, as well as green hydrogen, energy storage and balancing technologies. The decarbonisation of the whole energy system is now also being addressed via the ReFLEX Orkney project.

Since 2013, Orkney has generated over 100% of its electricity demand from renewable power sources.

Throughout this amazing progression the Orkney Renewable Energy Forum (OREF) and its membership have encouraged and supported pioneering innovation, helping each other achieve major advances and breakthroughs.

The Orkney energy revolution has been led, inspired and supported by the local community. In Orkney there are over 300 jobs related to renewables, over 700 individual energy generators and technology investors, and 12 large scale wind turbines. Around 10% of the homes in Orkney have microgeneration installed (compared to 2.8% UK average) providing clean energy and income locally.

Wind turbines in Orkney - image by Colin Keldie/Solo Energy

Careful planning, the local supply chain and good stewardship by developers mean these developments have had minimal negative impact on the local environment or community but have had major benefits to the economy.

Supporting this process, OREF has been a forum where those interested in renewables can meet, discuss and debate issues, and find the most appropriate ways to move forward.

Today, the unique Orkney energy ecosystem is being used as a case study to help other communities and regions across the world. Thousands of visitors have come to Orkney over the years to learn from the pioneering energy R&D activities taking place, and Orkney based expertise and equipment has been exported all over the world to help facilitate, encourage, and inspire other communities to achieve their own sustainable energy solutions.

Solar panels in Orkney - image by Colin Keldie/Solo Energy

Gareth Davies, Co-Chair of OREF said:

“Orkney’s journey towards a more sustainable energy future has always been shaped and strongly supported by European influence. At Orkney’s first renewable realities conference back in 2002, Dr Samuele Furfari of the EU’s Directorate General for Energy and Transport claimed to our audience: ‘do not look to others to solve your energy issues - look to yourselves’. This was an extremely important, useful and truthful observation. The success that has been achieved since has well and truly been led from within Orkney all be it with major support from others.

“Over the last 15 years Orkney has become very successful at participating in EU research and collaboration programmes relating to sustainable energy. In particular Orkney has been recognised as a leader in marine energy matters and the application of green hydrogen. The large number of communities, organisations and companies working together has become an important axis of collaboration and friendship for Orkney covering almost all parts of Europe. Many European citizens have visited Orkney to see what’s going on, and a significant number European students have come here to study and ended up settling here, enriching the local cultural mix as well as making important contributions to the overall sustainable energy effort.”

Neil Kermode, Co-Chair of OREF said:

“This is a public endorsement of the work done by so many OREF members over so many years to place energy front and centre in the life of Orkney. From routine monthly meetings to the ownership of microgeneration and electric vehicles; from the investments made in large wind in the county to the commitments by the supply chain to deliver the sunrise industries of wave and tidal energy and green hydrogen.

“There’s been a consistent push across the Orkney community to reduce energy consumption and harvest renewable energy demonstrating how a community can live sustainably and responsibly.

“I’m delighted to see that the decades of endeavour here in Orkney have been recognised by the European Commission, and through projects such as ReFLEX Orkney we will continue to decarbonise to develop a net zero economy.”

The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.

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