Monday, February 18, 2019

The Orkney Energy Miracle

I had assumed that after upending Sark's quiet society with her reporting on the electricity monopoly that the Financial Times' Jemima Kelly would continue her tour of the isles and go north to Orkney to investigate their power situation.

But that wasn't to be. Apparently she prefers Athens to visiting the Orcadians off the tippy-tip of Scotland, 59°0′ North latitude, in the middle of winter.
Go figure.

Well, as promised in one of our posts linking to Ms Kelly's travels, "It's Incredible that an institution as well respected as the FT would stoop to this level":
Speaking of little rocks in the ocean. we've been sitting on a blockbuster link regarding the Orkney energy situation. Maybe next week....

From The Observer, January 20:
How Orkney leads the way for sustainable energy
It seems the stuff of fantasy. Giant ships sail the seas burning fuel that has been extracted from water using energy provided by the winds, waves and tides. A dramatic but implausible notion, surely. Yet this grand green vision could soon be realised thanks to a remarkable technological transformation that is now under way in Orkney.

Perched 10 miles beyond the northern edge of the British mainland, this archipelago of around 20 populated islands – as well as a smattering of uninhabited reefs and islets – has become the centre of a revolution in the way electricity is generated. Orkney was once utterly dependent on power that was produced by burning coal and gas on the Scottish mainland and then transmitted through an undersea cable. Today the islands are so festooned with wind turbines, they cannot find enough uses for the emission-free power they create on their own.

Community-owned wind turbines generate power for local villages; islanders drive nonpolluting cars that run on electricity; devices that can turn the energy of the waves and the tides into electricity are being tested in the islands’ waters and seabed; and – in the near future – car and passenger ferries here will be fuelled not by diesel but by hydrogen, created from water that has been electrolysed using power from Orkney’s wind, wave and tide generators.

“A low-carbon renewable future, which is much talked about elsewhere, is coming early to Orkney,” says ethnographer Laura Watts in her book Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga. The book, published by MIT Press next month, tells the intriguing tale of how Orcadians have begun to create their own low-carbon future against incredible odds and with only a little help from the mainland.

And that may come as a surprise, says Watts, a senior lecturer at the School of GeoSciences, Edinburgh University. “When people think of future technologies or innovation, they assume it has all got to be happening in cities,” Watts told me when we met earlier this month. “But this revolution – in renewable energy – is being done in a place that lies at the very edge of the nation.”

The idea that such an intellectual revolution could occur in a place closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London may seem unexpected. But Orkney turns out to have a long history of generating ideas that are exported to the south. At the Ness of Brodgar, excavations at a recently discovered neolithic ceremonial complex show there was flourishing culture on the islands long before the construction of Stonehenge, Avebury and other giant edifices in the south. Neolithic grooved pottery and the first henges were conceived in Orkney before they were exported to the rest of ancient Britain. “We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Nick Card, Brodgar’s director of excavations....MORE
And the reason we are posting today?
An invitation to a book launch.

From Blackwell's Bookshop, Edinburgh:

Energy at the End of the World with Laura Watts
Blackwell's are delighted to host writer and academic Laura Watts for the launch of her new book, Energy at the End of the World. Please join us in the bookshop to hear Laura discuss new energy technologies in the remote islands of Orkney, and what we can learn from them.

About the Book
The islands of Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland, are closer to the Arctic Circle than to London. Surrounded by fierce seas and shrouded by clouds and mist, the islands seem to mark the edge of the known world. And yet they are a center for energy technology innovation, from marine energy to hydrogen fuel networks, attracting the interest of venture capitalists and local communities. In this book, Laura Watts tells a story of making energy futures at the edge of the world.
Orkney, Watts tells us, has been making technology for six thousand years, from arrowheads and stone circles to wave and tide energy prototypes. Artifacts and traces of all the ages—Stone, Bronze, Iron, Viking, Silicon—are visible everywhere. The islanders turned to energy innovation when forced to contend with an energy infrastructure they had outgrown. Today, Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, established in 2003....MORE
Date and Time
Thu, 28 February 2019
18:30 – 20:00 GMT