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Orkney – Britain’s Green Islands

Julia Bradbury and Alex Beresford travel to Orkney to see how these beautiful islands are making stunning progress towards a greener future. Immersing themselves in island life, they meet inspiring Orcadians harnessing their extreme weather to power their lives. 

Alex is on the remote island of Westray whose 600-strong community have built themselves a massive wind turbine. Apparently wind is now to Westray what oil is to Texas! The community’s profits from selling power to the grid have helped fund a community garden, affordable housing and the local golf course. Alex attempts its notorious 3rd- at a whopping 738 yards said to be the UK’s longest hole! He also visits Westray’s unforgettable puffin colony but finds we all need to green up our act if these lovable, endangered birds aren’t to succumb to climate change. 

Orkney produces around 130% of its energy needs through renewables, on windy days producing more electricity than the grid can handle. In fact, 1 in 12 households in Orkney make renewable electricity. On the island of Shapinsay, Julia lends a hand at Glynis Leslie’s small jam factory, powered by her own 6kw wind turbine she’s christened Teresa. Julia also visits Whirley, the Shapinsay community turbine equipped with an electrolyser ready to convert surplus energy into hydrogen, hailed as the fuel of the future because it emits only water vapour. Julia’s ferry to the Orkney mainland - the MV Shapinsay – is on track to be the world’s first hybrid-hydrogen ferry (though it’s possible the Norwegians will get there first!). This is big news not only for Orkney - ferries are its biggest user of fossil fuels - but for the shipping industry worldwide, responsible for 2.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Next step, Julia learns, might even be hydrogen-powered aircraft! 

Orkney’s renewable revolution will be powered by water as well as wind. In fact, wave power, still largely untapped, could be the biggest source of clean energy on earth. Kayaking across the vast natural harbour of Scapa Flow, Julia discovers these sheltered waters provide a nursery site where companies come to test wave energy prototypes. 

Meanwhile Alex heads out by speedboat to the 02 – the world’s most powerful tidal turbine. It can power around 2000 homes, so ten could supply the whole of Orkney. Predictable tidal energy, not dependent on the size of that day’s waves or the strength of the wind, isn’t just good for Orkney…It’s estimated that the UK coastline accounts for half the tidal capacity of Europe. 

As their Orkney sojourn comes to an end, Julia and Alex feel inspired by both the islands’ unforgettable landscape and its resourceful people, pathfinders pointing the way towards a bright, sustainable future.