By Alistair Grant Political Correspondent
IT is the pioneering project that offers a tantalising glimpse of a
cleaner, greener future free of mass pollution.
Experts have launched the first phase of a ground-breaking £28.5 million
energy system which it is hoped will eliminate the need for fossil fuels in
Orkney and eventually the whole of the UK.
The scheme includes plans for a locally-powered electric bus and electric
bike “integrated transport system” on the islands, as well as the mass
roll-out of electric vehicles.
Meanwhile, up to 500 domestic and 100 large-scale batteries will be used to
store renewable energy, allowing it to be pumped into the grid when winds
drop or the sun disappears.
Dubbed the “energy system of the future”, those involved hope it will prove
such a success it will eventually be rolled out across the UK and beyond –
helping to create a future powered entirely by renewables.
Mark Hamilton from Solo Energy, one of the firms involved in the ReFLEX
(Responsive Flexibility) scheme, said it was a “world-leading example” of
how innovation can drive the transition to green energy.
He said: “In Orkney, we’ve got a very high level of renewable generation
from wind and solar, and other forms of generation such as wave and tidal.
“All of these renewable generation sources are obviously low carbon, but
they are intermittent – so the wind comes and goes, the sun comes and goes.
“The ReFLEX project involves deploying battery systems and smart electric
vehicle charging to balance the intermittency of renewables.
“So what Solo does, we have a software platform which we use to control
battery systems across the grid to respond to the intermittency of
“So basically, when there’s lots of renewables generating, we charge
battery systems across the grid, store that low-cost renewable energy, and
then release it back to the grid when renewable generation decreases.”
Mr Hamilton said 25 per cent of the UK’s current electricity needs are met
by renewable energy.
He said it would realistically be 20 to 30 years before the country’s
entire energy system could become fully reliant on renewables.
He said: “We can have all the wind and solar farms we want but unless we
have the means to store and balance renewables we will never fully wean
ourselves off fossil fuels and get to the root of the climate change problem.”
The Orkney scheme uses a “virtual power plant” model which sees
rechargeable lithium-ion battery systems controlled remotely using special
This allows them to be charged when renewable energy – such as wind – is
abundant. They can then release that energy when the supply drops.
Orkney is already a world-leader in wave and tidal technology and boasts a
high uptake of electric vehicles.
The latest project aims to deploy up to 600 extra electric vehicles and 100
flexible heating systems, as well as a Doosan industrial-scale hydrogen
fuel cell which produces eco-friendly energy and heat.
Once demonstrated in Orkney, experts hope the “virtual energy system” –
which aims to link up local electricity, transport, and heat networks into
one controllable, overarching system – will be rolled out across the UK and
To encourage uptake, electric vehicles will be provided through a low-cost
leasing arrangement, while batteries will be provided free on the basis
customers will benefit from lower energy bills.
Led by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), the ReFLEX Orkney scheme
brings together an expert consortium including Solo Energy, Aquatera,
Community Energy Scotland, Heriot-Watt University and Orkney Islands
Council – as well as multi-national energy company Doosan Babcock. It is
funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy
Scotland Office minister Lord Ian Duncan said £14.3 million of UK
Government money was being pumped into the project to help “establish the
Scottish Islands as an energy powerhouse”.
UK energy minister Claire Perry said: “What we are seeing here on Orkney is
a test bed for the energy system of the future.
“These smart systems are a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy and
will provide cheaper, greener and more flexible access to energy for everyone.
“What we learn from these innovations could one day be rolled out across
the UK and exported around the world and we’ll be able to say it was ‘Made
Professor David Flynn of Heriot-Watt University said it had the potential
to “deliver global change in how we achieve our low carbon objectives”.
Speaking on behalf of the ReFLEX Orkney project partners, Neil Kermode,
managing director at EMEC, said: “We’re delighted that UK Research and
Innovation have funded this project.
“This new model will demonstrate how we can better interact with, own and
manage our integrated energy systems locally, both at individual and
“50% of the project is being funded privately indicating the appetite that
exists within the partners to make this project work.
“Orkney has already demonstrated high commitment for local sustainable
energy solutions and the county is well on its way to decarbonising each
aspect of the energy system.
“The target for Orkney is to have a negative carbon footprint and this
pioneering project will build upon the existing local energy system, local
infrastructure and local expertise, to accelerate this transition to a
fully sustainable and flexible energy system.”
The Scottish Government aims to generate 50% of the country’s overall
energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030.