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The Alternative Energy Caithness – A Bright Future
by Bill Fernie

Do you think Caithness is only a place of Coastline and Castles, Brochs and beautiful scenery?   Well all that may be true but in the land where the ages have seen the picts, vikings and many others pass this way leading up to the present generation of the county living in the nuclear age as shown by Dounreay may be passing into the Alternative Energy Age.

Since the early 1950’s Caithness folk have amongst their numbers scientists and experts in all the fields relevant to nuclear power. The picture in many places is of the highlands as some quaint place steeped in history of clans and castles, Viking battles or Pictish places that abound across the landscape. The constant change and push to be at the forefront of the latest technology in the area is not new.  The Broch builders of Caithness and other northerly places were possibly at the forefront of building in their day three thousand years ago. Possibly earlier Caithness may have seen the hunter-gatherers make their first weapons in new ways.  Recent finds suggest the mesolithic period over 7000 years ago was already a place where people in the north were taking advantage of the natural resources to be found in the area.

But the Highlands and the Islands have never been easy places to make a living. These were not places for easy living. Ingenuity, cunning and an ability to adapt have been at the forefront of living in places where conditions are difficult especially in winter. Perhaps it explains why so many scientists and inventors have been born in Caithness and other northerly places. The need to make things better and wrest from nature more for less effort have been put to the test down the ages. And often northern Scots have been successful in taking this ingenuity round the globe. A willingness to try new things has continued and as the county sees the rise of alternative energy is one way or another taking it on.

The wind turbines are going up fast now and soon the county will have several in place producing increasing amounts of energy from a source know for thousands of years in the area – the wind. But that may be just the beginning. There is far more to the potential for alternative sources of energy in Caithness and other places around Scottish coasts. No place in Scotland is far from the sea due to the long and straggly coastline. Wind power may be at the forefront at this moment but following on rapidly are other sources that may yet yield far higher prizes and make for a much better source of energy in the future.

Looking at several possibilities for Caithness in particular –

This is already well underway with many sites now selected and several approved for Wind Turbines.  At present the wind farms in Caithness are all land based but perhaps the sea will also be looked at if a suitably calm site can be found.  This seems unlikely in Caithness as the sea around the coast from time to time erupts with enormous fury that might be better utilised in wave or tidal power.  One thing is for certain Caithness will have many wind turbines
See -
Wind Farms In Caithness

Wave Power

The possibilities for this are great as Caithness has a coast that has waves in abundance with surfers long recognising the constant waves near Thurso beach. But there are several other examples on Caithness coast where waves are in constant motion. A small wave power station already operates on the island of Islay and the power created drives turbines and even supplies power to batteries for a local green bus.

Surfing Wave Power At Thuso

Offshore wave machines may seem like a dream of some wacky scientist and early versions – including one tried at Gills Bay a few years ago suffered from the battering of the sea and did not prove a success.  However few inventions were worked out until several had failed.  The knowledge gained from the failures has not been lost and in Orkney a new generation of wave machines will soon be tested using state of the art facilities in Stromness, Orkney to monitor the effectiveness of test machines built by a variety of UK and European companies.  The monitoring equipment and anchorages for the wave machines is already in place and computers ready to supply results to engineers and scientists.  The results will begin to flow very soon and we may see the results around not just Scotland but all over Europe. Caithness and Orkney are well placed to gain great benefits from these alternative sources of energy.

Tidal Power
The future may be tidal if the engineering can be worked out. The forces at work in tidal sources are enormous and extremely regular.  The Pentland Firth area has some of the biggest tidal surges in the world and although the firth itself may be beyond the capacity of any one to capture it there are other possibilities in the bays around the coast.  Wick Bay named by the Vikings may yet hold the potential for a power station based beyond where Stevenson’s ill-fated pier once stood. Stretched across Wick Bay a modern construction might hold turbines driven by the movement of tide in and out the bay already acknowledged to funnel water in under huge pressure that is harnessed could easily produce large amounts of power on a daily basis. Pie in the sky – certainly not and this is already being considered as a possibility for Caithness.

Peat has been burned for centuries in Caithness and many other parts of the north as people found ways of keeping warm in winter.  It is still used by some people although mainly as way of supplementing other forms of energy or keeping the traditional ways alive.  But the use of other sources of Biomass might yet overtake the peat power station tried out in Caithness a number of years ago.  The counties of Caithness and Sutherland now have within their boundaries a huge number of plantations of trees planted in the past 30 to 40 years using tax breaks to try to encourage the domestic production of timber for a number of purposes.  The future for this wood may yet find a new purpose as a source of fuel in biomass plants.  It could be used as a renewable fuel planting new forests as the existing ones are cut down. There is a good chance that this type of power generation could happen.  Councillors from Caithness will shortly visit a heat and power biomass plant already operating in Lerwick at a cost of around £6 million. Cheaper heating is already being supplied to many houses and businesses in Lerwick.  If Shetland can do it so can Caithness. Highland councillors in Caithness have already heard about a possible scheme that could supply such heating to parts of Wick, including schools, hospital and the distillery.  If successful the scheme would gradually be extended and possibly be duplicated in Thurso.  Using mainly chipped wood as the biomass source the system could use the wood from the many plantations now approaching maturity.

Apart from the heat and power there would be the additional benefit of job creation in the area and less dependence on power from a long way off.  A new heat grid system is envisaged for properties in part of Wick that could be extended. A window of opportunity is opening up for wick in this respect that if the timing can be got right might see Wick have a unique heating system in the Highlands.  In the next couple of years Scottish Water will replace most of water pipes in Wick in a major capital investment.  At that time all of the roads will be opened up to replace the old pipe- work. At that time the new heat system could be installed a fraction of the usual cost.

Elizabeth Marshall, the economic development officer in Caithness thinks this is a real possibility and is working on the detail of how such a project might be funded. With the evidence from the Lerwick project already available this new source of heat might yet reduce power bills for the people of Wick and perhaps elsewhere.

Anaerobic Digesters
Sounding like something from a movie this may also be seen in Wick.  The fish market at Wick may be the scene for this unique experiment likely to create much interest in the whole European scientific community. The system would use food waste and other matter to create power from gas.  The power will be used to heat the building and also create electricity again being fed into the grid.  The benefit to the Harbour Trust will be the use of an empty building for which rent will be paid for the duration of the experiment five and possibly up to ten years.  Free power will be supplied to the harbour lights and the excess sold to the electricity grid system.  The test once under way may run for five years and in addition to reducing the harbours electricity bill will yield the information needed to consider further development and roll out to buildings all over the UK and elsewhere.

Solar Power
Solar power has been little used in Caithness despite reasonably high levels of sunshine especially in winter. Newer panels are coming down in price and may yet be seen on more rooftops.

However one of the most modern technologies may yet prove a boon to anyone living in the north or any isolated place could be photovoltaics. Using light as the source of power a photovoltaic cell turns light into power.  Although proven to work it has been expensive and not worth individuals or businesses installing. However things are changing rapidly and that is why Wick may shortly see the first photovoltaic test set up on the fish market roof at Wick Harbour.

Fish Market At Wick Harbour

Roof Switched on December 2004

The price of the cells is coming down fast. Wick Harbour Trust has already seen the plans to use the roof of the fish market roof and negotiations are currently ongoing to make this happen. The ongoing experiment that would be conducted will be a test centre to gather more information on the latest cells and how they work in the conditions in Caithness.

The New Harvest
Fishing may be having a hard time but there is a new harvest and future on the horizon for Caithness. With the county already in the throws of a revolution from wind power and several new sources being distinct possibilities the harvesting of energy from alternative sources may yet see the county prosper as a range of new types of employment extend in several areas of power generation.  Any or all of these if successful will be highly marketable. There is along way to go but the challenges if surmounted hold out great possibilities – cheaper energy costs, lower heating bills, new jobs and an interesting future to add to an interesting past.  People in Caithness are used to dealing with complex problems as seen by the huge task currently underway in decommissioning nuclear facilities such as those at Dounreay.  The nuclear age may be changing but Caithness is well placed to grasp the Alternative Energy Age and gain the most out of it.

Caithness folk built brochs and castles, invented the fax and many other useful devices and produced engineering answers to complex problems.  They currently deal with the complexities of decommissioning nuclear facilities.  Farming and fishing may be in the blood but so is science and ingenuity - the Caithness air reeks with it.

Caithness will do it.

Bill Fernie is currently a Highland councillor for Wick West

25 March 05
All Energy 2005 - Getting Bigger Each Year
All-Energy 2005 - the fifth in the annual series of exhibitions and conferences devoted to renewable energy - will be held at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre 25 and 26 May 2005. Once again it will feature a free conference and a major exhibition and a free networking evening - part business, part fun but wholly for mixing and mingling with others in the renewable energy industry. We look forward to seeing you there!

8 February 05
The community energy company (CEC) established by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), held its first formal board meeting last Friday (4 February).

The chairman of the CEC was named as Lorne MacLeod, an Oban based businessman, who is a director of Scotland's first grid connected community owned windfarm, established at the end of last year on the island of Gigha. Mr MacLeod is a former chief executive of Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise and was director of HIE's Strengthening Communities group.  All directors of the CEC are volunteers who do not receive remuneration for their posts.

Items on the board's agenda included a review of community projects seeking CEC investment, with 30 groups from the Highlands and Islands having already expressed interest in community renewable energy generation.

The CEC was developed by HIE to meet the demand for the establishment of community owned small to medium scale wind farms and other forms of renewable energy generation. The main function of the CEC is to provide advice and financial assistance to community groups to help them generate and sell energy.

Mr MacLeod said: "I am pleased to take up the post as chairman of the community energy company, and see one of the main tasks of the company to raise awareness of the support and advice which is available to communities to take forward their own projects.

"The CEC wants to ensure communities throughout the Highlands and Islands gain direct financial benefit from renewable energy and believe ownership is the only way for communities to gain anything near the full income from renewable energy production."

The CEC will provide financial assistance for development costs of community owned schemes, including the costs of establishing an appropriate community group, feasibility work and environmental assessments necessary for a planning application.

It will also assist with the capital costs of a project. This assistance is most likely to take the form of a shareholding that would be bought out after a number of years by the community group using revenues from the established project. As a result the project will become wholly community owned and the CEC will be able to re-invest the capital in further community projects.

Nicholas Gubbins, head of HIE's community regeneration team, said: "I would like to congratulate Lorne and the other directors on their appointment and look forward to the CEC developing and becoming a key resource for people throughout the HIE network area.

"The CEC will merge with HIE's community energy unit (CEU) building on the success of the CEU and complementing the Scottish Executive funded Scottish Community and Household Renewables Initiative.

"The CEC will assist with the development of larger scale community owned renewables as well as continuing with the small scale projects the CEU is already involved with."

For more information on the CEC or the CEU telephone: 01463 244202 or log on to: www.hie.co.uk/community-energy.html

December 2004
Wick Goes For Alternative Energy With First Of Several New Projects

MSP Maureen MacMillan Launches Wick's Photovoltaic Roof Project
Wick took a step into the future with its first alternative energy scheme launched yesterday.  The photo voltaic roof installed at the Fish Market is the most northerly photo energy scheme in Scotland and will produce enough power for 6 average homes.  The cells depend on light for the power production and even in the dull conditions yesterday were averaging 12,000 watts of output.  Maximum output is expected to be around 22,000 watts  The harbour Trust expects to reduce its own electric bills considerably  even to zero and be paid for the excess power fed into the national grid.  In addition the scheme will create ROCS (Renewable Obligation Certificates) which have a market value.  Elizabeth Marshall the Highland council economic development officer was praised by everyone for her part in bringing the scheme to fruition.  But this is just the start with plans for other schemes well advanced in the alternative energy field.   A more ambitious scheme is now being looked at for a hangar at Wick airport which is 20 times bigger than the harbour roof and would supply up to 500 homes equivalent power.  The Wick Heat and Power scheme is also making great strides with £3.5 million committed to the project from the DTI and Highland Council in an ambitious move by the council to reduce heating costs for Wick homes and ultimately across the towns and villages of Caithness.  A new company has been set up to be known as Caithness Heat And Power.  Plans are also moving forward for another project within the Fish Market itself creating more energy from waste vegetable material.  The ambitious experiment will place Wick at the forefront of alternative energy schemes in Scotland.  An LED display will shortly be installed at the harbour to show the power output being supplied at any given moment.

Energy Savings Trust

Scottish Community And Householders Renewables Initiative
Advice and funding available for feasibility studies

DTI Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy Organisations
British Hydropower Association www.british-hydro.org
British BioGen www.britishbiogen.co.uk
British Photovoltaic Association www.pv-uk.org.uk
British Wind Energy Association www.bwea.com
International Geothermal Association http://iga.igg.cnr.it/index.html


Solar Trade Association

Renewable Power Association

*Scottish Renewables Forum


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