When it comes to balancing the economic, social and environmental issues in renewables development, a group of local Orkney businesses is taking the initiative. As well as delivering a stream of local projects, this team works throughout the UK and around the world. Around 80 people work in the renewables sector in Orkney--one of the world's largest centres of expertise--and their experience, skills and knowledge will be critical to ensuring the success of the renewables revolution.
Orkney is blessed with some of the world's best renewable resources--with constant winds, pounding Atlantic swells and raging tidal torrents. It's also pioneering a number of other renewables, including domestic wind turbines, biomass-fuelled heating systems, ground source heat pumps and biofuels. Photovoltaics are used to power the islands' lighthouses and there is an ongoing campaign to increase energy efficiency.
In many ways, Orkney is a microcosm of the issues that the wider community will face in the future. For example, the growth of renewables in Orkney is already pushing the capacity of the local grid. Orkney's role as a test bed for issues and technologies seems likely to propel the islands further as a specialist R&D centre. This sits well with a range of related activities in the islands, which are home to two university colleges, a world-renowned water-treatment test facility and a number of specialist companies that are leaders in their fields.
Drawing on more than 15 years of operational experience, Orkney Sustainable Energy specialises in the planning, development and implementation of small wind farms. It currently has more than ten such projects in Orkney and the rest of Scotland. Bryan Rendall Electrical has a worldwide reputation for the supply, commissioning and operation of wind turbines and other renewable technologies. Scotrenewables is a newly established company developing a tidal-energy device. It also has a thriving business developing and operating wind farms.
The combination of natural resources, easy access to sites and the skills base in Orkney has seen the west coast town of Stromness selected as the site for the European Marine Energy Centre. This unique testing facility provides seabed cable connections to which prototype technologies can connect. The effectiveness of new technologies can then be evaluated and valuable experience gained of operating these machines in exposed offshore conditions.
As with any human activity, there are potential social and environmental drawbacks from poorly planned renewables projects. Consequently, it may seem surprising that renewables have so much support in an island group that relies heavily on tourism and has more than 30 per cent of its land designated as conservation areas.
Again, Orkney has the experience to ensure that projects are implemented in the best possible way. Local companies Aquatera and Aurora Environmental help to ensure that developments in Orkney and elsewhere are appropriate. They have developed innovative and effective strategies for handling environmental issues, applying experience gained locally all over the world.
A major initiative to promote Orkney's renewable role is the Renewable Realities Conference, held each October. Last year's event attracted 220 delegates and 45 exhibitors from 12 countries. This year's event promises to be even bigger and better. Key attractions include presentations by leading specialists; visits to key sites; workshops on key issues; a community renewables event focussing on technology options and funding; and a public exhibition. For more information, visit www.renewbalerealities.com.
All this activity requires organisation, and for the past five years a local forum has been ensuring effective communication. This year, the islands' businesses have formed the Orkney Renewable Realities Group, which aims to create new opportunities for Orkney companies to supply products and services off the islands. …