The Orkney Islands have been awarded 100,000 euros in the first ever EU Responsible Island Prize, funded by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme.
Wind turbines in Orkney - Colin Keldie, courtesy of Solo Energy
Following evaluation by an international panel of independent experts the European Commission awarded third prize to Orkney, pipped to the post by the Danish islands of Bornholm and Samsø, respectively taking the first and second place accolades.
The Responsible Islands Prize was launched in March 2019 by the European Commission to discover and reward European islands who were making real steps towards building proper sustainable communities, recognising achievements in local renewable energy production for electricity, heating, cooling and transport. Orkney has been awarded third prize due to the percentage of renewable electricity produced by innovative energy technologies locally, environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, community involvement, and the replicability of the Orkney approach.
The Orkney Islands have been home to, and centre of, 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 has been a marked diversification in activity: starting with energy efficiency; then deploying wind turbines to decarbonise electricity; establishing a world leading marine energy test site; introducing innovative heating, as well as green hydrogen, energy storage and balancing technologies; and latterly addressing decarbonisation of the whole energy system via the ReFLEX Orkney project.
Since 2013, Orkney has generated over 100 percent 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 percent of the homes in Orkney have microgeneration installed (compared to 2.8 percent UK average) providing clean energy and income locally.
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.
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.
“Orkney’s journey towards a more sustainable energy future has always been shaped and strongly supported by European influence” said Gareth Davies, Co-Chair of OREF. “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, added that 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.