CANNY residents on a Scottish island powered almost entirely by renewables are now paying less for energy than mainland householders hit by rocketing bills because of the rise in fossil fuel prices.

Until recently, the islanders on Eigg were paying more for their energy than those on the national grid but the tables have turned after the price of oil and gas soared.

According to the latest data from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, default energy tariffs for those paying by direct debit will cost £0.28 per kWh from next month, an increase of roughly 50% compared to last year. The unit cost for electricity in the price cap ending this month was just £0.21 per kWh.

On Eigg, the islanders have been paying £0.25 per kWh for the last few years and, although this is about to go up to £0.27 per kWh, it will still be less than the average bill across the UK. Before 2007, power was supplied by individual generators owned by residents.

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As these were expensive, dirty and inefficient, it was decided to develop a micro-grid for the island powered by renewables and the micro-grid now runs on these for 95% of the time. In winter, the island is mostly run on hydro power, with solar power taking over as the dominant renewable in spring and summer when there is less rain.

Just last month the solar power component was increased by 120kW bringing the total up to 170kW. There are also four small wind turbines providing 6kW of power each.

“It’s a brilliant system and I think it is the way forward for small communities,” said Eigg Electric director Sue Hollands.

“There are a few challenges, and one is that while mainland people have unlimited amounts of electricity, each householder on Eigg has only 5kW. That means you struggle to put on your washing machine and kettle at the same time and if all the people all used 5kW at one time the system would crash.

“However, if you live on Eigg you know the devices that are heavy users of electricity. If there is a situation where we are low in renewables the maintenance team let everyone know and suggest times of the day when we may have more power.”

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The odd challenge aside, it is a far brighter picture than when Hollands first moved to Eigg and power was supplied by generators.

“I didn’t even have a fridge and people kept their freezers in a shed next to the telephone exchange because the generators there were

on about half the time each day so they could use the power from them,” she said. “We put on the washing machine and hoovered at night when the generator was on and we had a 12volt car battery which powered our radio and DVD player during the day.”

Eigg islanders had to raise around £1.25 million for the renewable scheme but there is now more technical and financial support from the Scottish Government for micro-grids for other communities that would like to follow suit.