A KEY hurdle has been passed in pioneering work to make Orkney one of the first places in the UK to become carbon neutral.

As well as reducing carbon output to net zero it is also hoped that the ground-breaking project will help alleviate fuel poverty on the islands – one of the hardest hit areas in the UK despite producing over 100 per cent of the islanders’ energy needs through renewables.

Once it is up and running it is hoped the project could be used as a prototype for similar work in communities across the globe.

The enterprise, which aims to make Orkney a smart energy area, has now successfully passed its feasibility review meaning it can move on to the demonstration stage.

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This could be in operation by this summer, allowing residents access to cheaper energy produced on the islands instead of exported to the mainland and imported back again as it is at present.

Part of the “smart” scheme could involve installing battery walls to store energy on the side of houses as well as leasing electric vehicles as cheaply as possible. An island community powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system is also planned.

“It’s very exciting,” said a spokesperson for the ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) Orkney project. “Despite the fact that Orkney is this renewable power house we still have one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK.”

The National: Skara Brae in OrkneySkara Brae in Orkney

It’s currently a source of frustration to islanders that their many community windfarms do not always operate at full capacity. Although the wind is there in abundance the aging cable under the Pentland Firth, which transports the energy to the National Grid, can’t cope with the high output. Ironically, the energy that is transported back often comes from fossil fuel sources.

Funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, ReFLEX Orkney is aiming to integrate electricity, transport and heat networks on the islands using advanced software to balance demand and supply by storing energy during peak local renewable production so it can be released during times of high demand.

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The first-of-its-kind Virtual Energy System (VES) will interlink local electricity, transport, and heat networks into one controllable, overarching system.

The project aims to create a “smart energy Orkney”, demonstrating an energy system of the future, which will reduce and eventually eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

Professor David Flynn of Heriot-Watt University said the project had the potential to deliver “global change” in achieving low carbon objectives and showed Orkney was a “flagship” for distributed wealth creation.

“The only way to deliver an affordable, resilient and sustainable energy service to society is through an integrated, whole-systems approach,” he said. “To understand the complexities and to deliver demonstrable solutions, such research must happen in communities, and Orkney is a global leader in energy innovation.

“This project has the potential to deliver global change in how we achieve our low carbon objectives and also provide UK companies and communities with first-mover advantage on unlocking revenue opportunities from our energy infrastructure, providing excellent wealth creation opportunities from the low carbon economy. Orkney is not only an energy innovation epicentre but also a flagship for distributed wealth creation.”