These case studies explore some particular aspects of the Highlands and Islands' new energy industry.
The dramatic emergence of the Highlands and Islands as a major – but still fledgling – player in the deployment of new energy technologies has excited industry and academia worldwide.
Less visible, but equally exciting, is the range of activity by research institutions and others in the area, exploring yet newer renewable energy sources, and also the vital technical, operational, environmental and other implications of energy activity.
Highlands and Islands-based scientists are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in areas spanning generation of energy from algae to creation, storage and use of hydrogen fuel. A big research topic in this naturally resource-rich area relates to environmental impacts of energy production and – also not unexpectedly, given the nature of this area – topics like energy implications for buildings are coming under scrutiny.
The waves and currents of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters have an awesome destructive power, known and feared by mariners for centuries.
But now they offer an equally impressive productive power, for electricity generation, off the northern tip of mainland Britain.
The Highlands and Islands area’s disproportionate share of Europe’s wind resource, making the region’s onshore turbines the most productive in Britain, has helped drive the industry’s rapid evolution.
Windpower generation, currently the area’s fastest-growing renewables sector, has progressed from initial experimental activity, through a rapidly expanding range of commercial and community developments.
Natural assets are being augmented by a substantial skills and technologies base, stemming from a long history in the oil and gas and other engineering-related industries.
Greenspace Live, a commercial spinout based in the Outer Hebrides, is meeting new market demand with its web portal-based software which allows organisations to monitor the energy performance of their buildings.
Five companies are driving forward high-potential renewables projects, having won the bulk of a £15 million national award ‘pot’ to boost marine generation technologies development.
Together awarded £13 million from the fund, all are active in the Highlands and Islands. Their projects exemplify the pioneering technologies fuelling the region’s momentum, and its global reputation as a ‘new energy’ hub.
They address challenges of large-scale wave power generation, inter-connection of tidal energy arrays, and building, deploying and demonstrating differing types of wave and tidal device.
The July 2010 awards were made from the WATERS fund (Wave and Tidal Energy: Research, Development and Demonstration Support), a collaboration between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with European funding support.
A combination of private and public sector vision and investment looks set to revitalise a ‘sleeping giant’ fabrication yard in the Scottish Highlands.
The massive Kishorn yard and dry dock, created more than 30 years ago to build super-sized structures including the world’s largest man-made moveable object – the 600,000 tonne Ninian oil platform – has lain practically dormant for heavy industry since the early 1990’s
Now, however, the Wester Ross facility has been earmarked for a key potential role in the imminent offshore wind turbine construction boom and the emerging wave and tidal generation industry.
Scotland, and the Highlands and Islands in particular, undoubtedly hold a formidable share of natural renewable energy resources, not least in the rapidly advancing offshore wind, wave and tidal sectors.
The surrounding seas boast up to a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal potential, and a tenth of its wave power capacity.
A powerful set of technological, geographic and commercial factors is driving plans to transform a part of Argyll into a versatile ‘energy hub’ for immediate and longer term renewables operations.
When AWS Ocean Energy located to the Scottish Highlands in its quest to develop the world’s most efficient, reliable wavepower device, it was primarily for dispassionate, commercial reasons.
But the people behind AWS also take a more personal, vocational approach to renewable technology and its socio-economic contribution.
And, through that combination of practicality and passion, the Inverness-based marine energy company has taken its development programme from a concept-proving prototype to the verge of producing a high output, commercial scale device, fit for use offshore by big power utilities.
The development process has involved a determined, practical vision, persistent technological innovation, considerable private sector partnership and invaluable public sector support.
Britain’s biggest and toughest gas field project is bringing its own particular challenges and economic benefits for the energy-rich Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
It is also stimulating new approaches to environmental sustainability.