On Orkney Islands an intellectual revolution is underway, made of wind, sun and sea waves. 15 kilometres beyond the border of Scotland, this archipelago of twenty islands has become the site of a turning point on energy that began forty years ago with some experimental projects on the production of renewable energies. Orkney was once utterly dependent on power that was produced by burning coal and gas on the Scottish mainland and then transmitted through an undersea cable. Today, on the other hand, the population of Orkney has cancelled and overturned its relationship of energy dependence: it is autonomous from the motherland Scotland and produces more electricity than necessary, storing it and selling it to the grid. In 2018 Orkney produces 130.5% of its electricity needs. Storms hit the islands throughout the year. The land is flat and without trees, the grass grows horizontally swept by the wind and it nestles on the ground in tangles of leaves and stems. The rains knock down shacks, tear the tiles from the roofs and can eat meters of coastline in one night. Residents use to say that in Orkney “you don’t need an umbrella, you need a riot shield”.
The decisive agent of this reversal was the way in which the islanders have rethought their environment and its characteristics. The decades of experimentation on the production of energy from wind, solar and marine sources have guaranteed a constant energy flow that does not originate from violent, forced and invasive technological acts, but from a kind request of the resources of Nature. The experiments are carried out on different zones of the archipelago, both on land and at sea, through the delimitation of specific areas of intervention that transform the landscape into an active energy production agent. The flat landscape of Orkney is dotted with high white and grey prods that feed the life of the community itself. After the first experiments of the 1980s, many inhabitants of the Mainland began to invest in small and medium-sized wind turbines to be installed on their own farm or in their own garden, to make themselves autonomous. The wind farms present are owned by the community and generate energy for local villages; electric charging stations are larger than petrol pumps; devices that can transform wave energy and tides into electricity are tested in the waters and on the seabed of the islands.
However, the real story that emerges is another. The population of a small archipelago in the North Sea has imagined a different energy future and has begun to give it form and concreteness. Ecowarriors is a documentary that narrates the energetic evolution of this community through the eyes of its members, social agents or warriors – as some of them call themselves – of a very profound change in society and in the way in which a person thinks and relates with energy.
Burgar Hill Wind Farm, Mainland, Orkney Island. The Burgar Hill wind energy project began as a research site in the early 1980s, and over the last three decades has seen a variety of wind turbines installed, originally for research purposes and latterly for commercial generation. With over 500 domestic scale wind turbines, Orkney is home to the highest concentration of small and micro wind turbines in the UK.
Kirkwall, Hydrogen Refuelling Station. Renewable electricity generated on the islands of Eday and Shapinsay is used by electrolysers to produce hydrogen which can then be used as a clean energy vector to store and use valuable energy for local applications.
Stromness, EV Charging Point.
Kirkwall, Gasoline Station.
Kirkwall, Paddie during a gig in Auld Motor Hoose pub. The encounter, fortuitous and unexpected, with the energy dispersion.
Warness Park, Hatston Industrial Units, Kirkwall. The complex is one of research establishment at Orkney. On this industrial site there are workshop, storage and office accommodation of tidal and energy developers using test site at Eday Island.
Stromness, Mainland, Orkney Island. Stromness is the second-most populous town in Orkney, with about 2000 inhabitants.
Stromness, view from the pier. This ancient hamlet of Norse origin hosts companies, study centers, marine energy test sites and has become today one of the most important pole of research for renewables energies in Europe.
Burgar Hill Wind Farm, Mainland, Orkney Island. Richard Gauld has had major roles in a range of important renewable energy projects over the last three decades. «Orkney is a first-rate location for windfarms, with our projects producing high volumes of sustainable electricity, and the developments are perhaps the best examples of locally-owned renewable energy projects in Scotland. The success of wind energy in Orkney has been down the vision of the original development teams, along with the support of the community, and I fully expect to see this success continue for the next decade and beyond».
Burgar Hill Wind Farm, Mainland, Orkney Island. Wind power is the main energy source that allowed Orkney to become a net energy exporter.
Kirkwall, view of the city from the St. Magnus Cathedral.
Bankburn House, St Margarets Hope, Orkney. A Tesla charger station has been installed in the parking area of the guesthouse which dates back to the early 1860s. There are more EV charge stations in Orkney than there are petrol stations: the grid of public and private EV charging points counts 28 units.
A battery of a self-powered house in Grainbank, Kirkwall. The storage unit works in an integrated way with the solar roof and other devices to store the excess energy generated during the day and makes it available when necessary, minimizing dependence on the electricity grid.
“Remote Scottish Post Box” in Deerness, Mainland, Orkney. Between 2004 – 2010, Martin Parr has visit Orkney. About landscape he said: «When you are in the middle of nowhere, in a bleak landscape and in wild weather, these little post boxes are strangely comforting, a sign that other people are around, that life is going on, and that you are connected to the world».
Mick Frazer, 61. Tesla enthusiast. «In order to assist other purchasers of all EV we decided to become a Tesla Destination charging point being a Bed and Breakfast business. At this point we were the furthest North Tesla destination charging point in the United Kingdom. Now we are waiting to have a Tesla Power wall installed to hopefully assist us in becoming self sufficient in the power that we use and provide to fellow EV user’s».
Fall of Warness tidal test site, Eday, Orkney. OpenHydro Open Centre Turbine. The device generates renewable energy from tidal streams and was the first tidal turbine to be grid-connected in Scotland.
Substation of European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) at Billia Croo Wave test site, Mainland, Orkney.
At the grid-connected test sites there are subsea cables which run from each test berth at sea to a substation onshore where electricity generated on site can then be fed into the national grid.
Chinglebraes Orkney’s Waste Transfer Site, Mainland, Orkney. Tons of paper are ready to the recycle. Approximately 18,000 tonnes of waste are dealt with by the Council in Orkney every year. The Council is committed to achieving the Scottish Government recycling targets of 70% by 2025.
Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney.
Jane Majendie, 33, personal trainer and green enthusiast. «I strive to be a respectful, empowered, peaceful, positive ecowarrior. I want to personally take full responsibility for my carbon footprint and do anything I can to reduce it. I want to play my part and do my bits to give my daughter the greatest gift of a safer Greener healthier planet Earth for her future and for her children’s future. I dream of Holly growing up in a clean fresh, conscious caring planet, one where people really truly care and act on it, taking action to undo the damage humans have done so far and changing our course».
Organic guesthouse in Burray, Mainland.
Alister Donaldson, 46, farmer in Hobbister, Mainland. «My house and my two farms are powered by two wind turbines. I have been independent of the grid for more than ten years».
Jeff Mackie, 31, ship’s carpenter in Stromness.
Anne Richardson, 14 and HB, 11.
Kevin Neal, 42, works as mechanical engineer. «The ocean is the source of life we have to start treating it like it’s our own house and not litter or pollute the greatest source of life on the planet. As a surfer, it saddens me that in my short life on this planet we have polluted the seas and planet, we have to come to terms with this extremely soon and be respectful to all of mother nature before it is too late. It does require us to all make fundamental changes to how we live. Mankind has evolved requiring a lot of energy. We have to strive to be more economical with the energies we produce and we simply have to make all the energies we use as clean and renewable as possible».
Sandy Kerr, Director of International Centre for Island Technology, Stromness. «Orkney in particular and islands in general, have an important role to play in delivering sustainable energy option for the rest of the world. Islanders are naturally systems thinkers, they understand where their energy comes from and they understand the role that it plays in sustaining island life. Islanders tend to have a better understanding of how their own actions impact on the energy system and the environment around them. This systems approach is essential if we are to understand how to integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy into metropolitan society».
Tom Worthington, 73, house builder, Stromness.
Micheal Roberts, 69, farmer in Eastside, Mainland, Orkney. «We’ve started investing in green energy in times when it did not have a high profile. Ours was made possible by the natural characteristics of the island, a landscape that is embraced by the wind and the waves. Now it seems the discourse on renewable energy sources is closer to the marketing logic of large stock markets than to the environmental needs of our dying planet. We fear that our islands, our landscape will be damaged by massive installations purely for business needs. The policy of peripheral generation to supply distant cities is inefficient and disruptive to both those coastal and island landscapes and communities and the landscapes through which the infrastructure for generation passes. As Scotlands large areas of concentrated population are all coastal, marine generation and wind turbines sited at sea are closer to point of use, they involve less infrastructure and are not visually or socially intrusive».
St Peter’s churchyard, Mainland, Orkney.
Self-powered house in Grainbank, Kirkwall. With 1 in 12 Orcadian households generating electricity from renewable sources, Orkney has the highest proportion of households making their own electricity of anywhere in the UK.
Fall of Warness tidal test site, Eday, Orkney. With six experimental devices that produce energy from tidal and waves, Eday is the island with the electric sea.