Scotland’s Orkney Islands have unveiled an initiative that aims to use a network of technologies, including renewables, batteries, and electric vehicles, to become a group of “smart energy islands.” The £28.5 million ($37.4 million) project hopes to eventually eliminate any need for fossil fuel use on the archipelago.

Orkney announced the project, which it’s calling the ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) initiative. It will use a “virtual energy system” which is being billed as the “energy system of the future.”

The virtual energy system aims to leverage all available technologies, including battery systems and “smart” EV charging, to balance out any intermittent renewable energy generation. Orkney is already a net exporter of renewable energy — more than 100% of annual electricity demand on the islands is met by wind, solar, and wave and tidal generation.

A software platform will control the battery systems and respond accordingly to demand. The release notes,

“State-of-the-art monitoring of the Orkney VES network will ensure storage systems get charged when renewables generation is at a peak, and power released when demand is highest.”

A separate release from the European Marine Energy Center offers a few more details on the initiative. Technologies to be deployed in the project include:

  • Up to 500 domestic batteries
  • Up to 100 business and large-scale batteries
  • Up to 200 Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) chargers
  • Up to 600 new electrical vehicles (EVs)
  • An island community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system
  • Up to 100 flexible heating systems
  • An industrial-scale hydrogen fuel cell

The video below offers a bit more about the initiative’s goals, while showing multiple shots of Tesla Powerwalls, EVs charging, and wind turbines:

Into The Future

Orkney wants EVs to be a large part of the initiative going forward. Adele Lidderdale from Orkney Islands Council told BBC News, “Electric vehicles are a really important part of this project. At the moment, 2% of vehicles in Orkney are EVs and we’re looking to take that up to 10%.”

Half of the project is backed by U.K. government funding, and half of the project will be funded privately. European Marine Energy Center also says the “technologies will be introduced under attractive leasing type finance and novel ways of ownership that avoid the end user requiring major capital investment.”

Partners in the project include Orkney Islands Council, power storage specialists Solo Energy, Heriot-Watt University, and Community Energy Scotland, energy and environmental consultants Aquatera, and energy company Doosan Babcock.

The EMEC released a few other interesting statistics regarding Orkney’s pioneering role in U.K. renewables:

  • 10% of homes on Orkney have microgeneration compared to 2.8% in the U.K.
  • Orkney has 375% more EVs per home than the U.K. average
  • Orkney has 2.0 kW of renewable energy capacity per home – 900% higher than the U.K. average
  • Orkney has 12 times more domestic RHI installations per home than the U.K. average
  • Annual renewable electricity generation is over 100% of annual electricity use on Orkney

Organizers hope the project will be successful enough to replicate in other areas, both across the U.K. and internationally. U.K. Government Minister Lord Duncan said of the project,

“Scotland is at the forefront of smart energy which is key to the U.K. Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. With £14.3 million of U.K. Government funding going to the ReFLEX project in Orkney, we are helping to establish the Scottish Islands as an energy powerhouse. We need cheaper, cleaner and flexible energy and Orkney will be at the heart of this.”

UK Green Projects

Along with this project, the U.K. government announced three other green projects receiving funding. Among them is an Oxford project to trial “the world’s largest hybrid energy storage system.”

The £41m project is built around a large battery system totaling 50 MW. It will store electricity to be used in supplying low-carbon ground-source heating to about 300 homes, and to accelerate large scale electric vehicle charging in the city. Spare energy will also power an EV “superhub,” as more than 20 “ultra-rapid” public EV chargers will be installed.

Other projects include smart energy systems in Oxford and Sussex.


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