Green Islay – Renewable Energy Projects

Green Islay

‘Sann an Ile ghorm an fheòir
A rugadh mi’s a thogadh mi

It’s in green Islay of the grass
That I was born and raised

(from the traditional Gaelic song ‘Sann an Ile)

Long before its reputation as a whisky producer, Islay was famous as the green island.  With the increasing interest in renewable energy, Islay is once again set to become ”Green Islay”.

Islay has frequently been a pioneer for the testing of new renewable energy technology, and projects that utilise heat exchange, photovoltaics, wave and wind have all been developed on Islay: the community swimming pool in the Mactaggart Leisure Centre uses waste heat from the neighbouring Bowmore DistilleryBruichladdich Distillery uses anaerobic digestion to capture energy from its waste products, roofing slates that incorporate photovoltaic solar panels were used in the development of Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, the Gaelic Community Centre, and the Port Mòr community centre is fully equipped with a wind turbine, solar thermal heating and a ground source heat pump.  The Limpet Wave Station near Portnahaven has proved to be a successful testbed for wave technology and has been used as a prototype for the much larger Wave Power station that is planned for Siadar on Lewis.

This tradition of green energy projects is set to continue with the proposal for a 10MW tidal energy array in the Sound of Islay.  Scotland has over 25% over Europe’s tidal energy potential and some of the best locations are around Islay.

The project is being developed by ScottishPower Renewables with local support from Islay Energy Trust.  The proposal consists of an array of ten 1 MW tidal devices designed by ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest.  The devices, which look similar to onshore wind turbines built on a tripod, are 30 metres high to the tip of the blade.  Placed in 50 metres of water they will be 20 metres below the surface and will therefore have no visual impact.  By feathering their blades, the devices can capture energy from tidal flow in both directions.

A 300kW version of this device has been tested at Kvalsund in Norway for over four years and is one of the most advanced in the world.  Whilst there are many single tidal turbines under test the deployment of an array of tidal devices at the Sound of Islay site is a significant milestone that would allow tidal energy to make a significant contribution to Scotland’s electricity supply portfolio.

Compared to wind power, tidal is still in its infancy but whilst technically more challenging, tidal power is very predictable and as water has a much higher density than air, it is possible to capture more energy from a smaller size of turbine.  The proposed ScottishPower Renewables project in the Sound of Islay could provide the equivalent of the electricity used by 5000 homes.

The project is currently undertaking a rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment.  There is a lot to learn about the implementation of large-scale marine renewables and the work crosses a broad range of scientific disciplines.  The assessment includes sea mammal, fish and bird surveys along with studies of the seabed (benthic) ecology.  Specialists are also required to carry out terrestrial habitat and archaeological surveys that are required at the potential cable landing points.

The reason that the Sound of Islay is such a good energy resource also makes it an extremely challenging environment to work in.  Water depth is over fifty metres and the tidal flow can be up to six knots.  Despite these conditions, over 25km of seabed video footage has been captured allowing detailed assessment of the environmental and technical aspects of the project.

The Sound of Islay Tidal Energy Project is being supported locally by the Islay Energy Trust, which is a community-owned charity whose main purpose is to generate financial and social benefits from renewable energy operations for the Islay community.  The Trust has a full-time project officer dedicated to the project; Andy Macdonald, Islay Energy Trust’s Tidal Energy Project Officer is working closely with ScottishPower Renewables to maximize the potential benefits of this project for Islay using local people and services wherever possible.

Recognising that reduction in energy demand is an equally important activity as renewable generation, the Islay Energy Trust also promotes energy efficiency and with funding from the Climate Challenge Fund, Lindy MacLellan, Islay Energy Trust’s Carbon Savings Project Officer is working to reduce Islay’s carbon footprint.

With a population of only 3,500, Islay may be a small community, but it is taking big steps to a renewable energy future.

Andrew Macdonald, Islay Energy Trust, 01496 810 873,

Article first published in The Geographer (Summer 2010), the newsletter of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society


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