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I recently visited the Orkney Islands to learn more about the projects fuelling the renewables revolution. It was an encouraging example of successful green energy implementation, something that Meld are hoping to see happen both locally and globally. It was clear to me that the responsibility for its success lies with the thoughtful integration of new green technologies, and with the innovative thinkers of progressive Orcadian communities.

Stromness Harbour

The ferry arrived at Orkney’s major seaport Stromness. Historically, Stromness was a place where ships could shelter, and in the 19th century became the centre from which trade expanded. Today, it is at the heart of Europe’s green energy revolution, and the oceans continue to power life in Orkney. It was in Stromness that I met Neil Kermode, the Managing Director at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). Chatting with Neil provided an insight into the green innovation emerging in Orkney, and the changing face of this pioneering archipelago.

Since 2003, Orkney has been home to EMEC, the world’s first test site for real life deployment of marine energy devices and a pioneer in renewables research. Along with these ocean energy systems, the power generated from Orkney’s strong winds have allowed the islands to become a net energy exporter. Compared to UK averages per home, there are 12 times more domestic RHI installations, over 3 times as many EVs, and renewable energy capacity is 9 times higher.

The success of renewables presented an interesting problem for energy innovators in Orkney. Limited by grid capacity restrictions, turbines were often ‘curtailed’, losing on average more than 30% of their annual output[1]. Of course, being world leaders in green energy, this loss was not simply accepted. Instead, green heads turned to green hydrogen.

In 2018, the EU funded BIG HIT project was launched. The project uses excess renewable electricity generated on the islands along with EMEC’s Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysers to produce green hydrogen. This fuels vehicles, powers ferries while docked, and heats buildings, including a school and community centre. BIG HIT has thus far proved a local success, enabling more renewable energy to be produced and used locally.

Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Deployments in the Orkney Islands, Scotland[2]

Meeting Neil Kermode, managing director of EMEC was a fascinating opportunity to learn a bit about BIG HIT and how Orkney has become a world leader in the renewable’s revolution. Neil took me on a site visit to their Billia Croo site.

The substation at the Billia Croo site

Nestled on the shore outside Stromness, the grid-connected wave energy test site has three waverider buoys measuring wave heights, period, and direction. In the substation, I was shown where the five 11kv subsea cables are fed into, and Neil described how the electricity generated by the wave energy converters feeds directly into the national grid. Whether it be for the advancement of Orcadian energy systems, or the trialling of green technologies from overseas, innovation is welcomed here. This is how it has come to lie at the heart of European Marine Energy.

Neil explained a program EMEC are currently involved in named ‘HySeas’. It began in 2013 and is currently in its third stage. ‘HySeasIII’ aims to demonstrate how fuel cells can be successfully integrated with a marine hybrid electric drive system along with storage and bunkering arrangements. With funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020, the project will use wind as well as tidal and wave energy through EMEC’s test sites to produce the hydrogen. To begin with, a full-sized drive train will be constructed and validated on land. If successful, this knowledge will be used to construct a ferry from Shapinsay to Kirkwall. As the demand for hydrogen continues to grow, the project will contribute to making green hydrogen commercially viable, and their model is likely to be replicated elsewhere.

Although renewable energy generation and the development of green hydrogen in Orkney has proven highly successful, it doesn’t stop there. EMEC are continuing to work on projects to support the development of floating offshore wind, and their sites are being used by many companies for real-sea testing, including hosting a subsea data centre designed by Microsoft.

Northern Isles underwater data centre being retrieved from the seafloor[3]

In a recent project ‘ReFLEX Orkney’, EMEC have parented with Heriot-Watt University, Aquatera, Solo Energy, Community Energy Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, and Doosan to create a large-scale smart local energy system by combining technology with renewable energy to provide intelligent heat, power and transport services[4]. Combined with ongoing projects at EMEC, ReFLEX has significantly shifted Orkney along its net zero timeline. As the implementation of climate policy is discussed at COP-26 in Glasgow, I’m certain leaders will be looking north at projects like ReFLEX to explore possibilities for green energy systems.

Meld Energy is highly supportive of Orkney’s renewables revolution. It is a wonderful example of how natural resources and collective community support can be harnessed to lead the world in the net zero transition. Because Orkney has welcomed new green technologies, it has helped build an energy system that serves the local community and fuels innovation, a true world leader of green energy. It was my first-time visiting Orkney, and certainly won’t be my last. Who knows, next time I might arrive on a hydrogen ferry, fuelled using energy from the very sea I’m sailing on!

Gwen Boswell

Analyst at Meld Energy