Scottish islands - a solution in sight?

15 May 13 - Martin McAdam, Chief Executive Officer

Oyster 800 operating at Billia Croo, Orkney

For people in the Western Isles, and Orkney and Shetland, the issue of electricity links to the UK mainland has been a long-running sore.

Until recently, the UK grid was fit for purpose - designed for transmitting and distributing electricity from big, central power stations to our towns and cities and onwards, through ever thinner wires, to the far-flung periphery of the UK.

But for more than a decade, this system has been turned on its head - green energy goals mean we must now collect energy from the far north and west (where it is windiest, waviest and least populous) and operate our grid system in reverse.

This means we need bigger, fatter transmission cables connecting our islands, and new lines to replace the wooden poles and bits of 'wet string' on our remote coasts.

Problem is, the system operator National Grid and regulator Ofgem still view the world through pre-green energy glasses - and charge phenomenal fees for generators who want new lines for renewable energy schemes built far from the centres of demand.

In my view, it makes sense to generate electricity on the far edges of the UK, and particularly in the Scottish islands, where not only the wave, tidal and wind energy is some of the best in Europe, but is where many local councils and residents want renewable energy, to help boost fragile remote economies.

It is good for UK consumers too - UK Energy Minister Ed Davey and regulator Ofgem have both published analysis which shows that the best prospect for our future energy bills is a diverse energy mix, where renewables combine with base load power to mitigate against price shocks caused by wholesale fossil fuel costs.

And at last it seems the UK Government is coming to a similar view (the Scottish Government has been on-side for a number of years).

Today's report 'Scottish Island Renewables Project' concludes there IS a clear social and economic case for putting island links in place.

The report draws on extensive interviews with wind wave and tidal developers with plans on Scottish islands and paves the way for a solution - most probably some form of intervention from both governments.

This is crucial not just for Aquamarine Power, but the wave and tidal sector in general -and keeps alive the possibility the Western Isles interconnector could be built by 2017.

This dovetails neatly with our own ambitious plans for a 40MW Oyster farm off the west coast of Lewis. We expect to get full approval for our proposal in the coming weeks, and a 2017 completion date for the grid would fit well with our development timescales.

We have not definitively solved the issue of island grids just yet - but it looks very much like the willingness to tackle the problem head-on has, at very long last, arrived.

The full report Scottish Island Renewables Project can be viewed here.