27 June 2019 | Reading 9 mins.

Energy futures at the edge of the world

Laura Watts
Senior Lecturer in Energy & Society, University of Edinburgh

Laura Watts, Senior Lecturer in Energy & Society, University of Edinburgh

Europe’s energy future is already a reality on Scotland’s remote Orkney islands, where cutting-edge renewable energy systems in wave and hydrogen energy are just some of the many innovations that the islanders (‘Orcadians’) have adopted ahead of mainland Europe.

Note to reader: This article is an abridged extract from Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga by Laura Watts.

We are a company of poets, exploring an old electricity test site where Orkney electrons were generated half a century ago. Our local guide is Alistair Peebles, an Orkney-based artist and writer. The third person, Alec Finlay, Scottish artist and poet, is bagging and tagging renewable energy landscapes. Together, the three of us seek a mythical location, the first of the many renewable energy test sites in the islands: Costa Head.

We stop the car on the north-east coastal road of West Mainland and begin our hike up the side of the hill. A winding tractor track takes us up through incurious cows and onto a headland. On the far side, the hill drops hard into the sea. We pause with cameras, notebook, and pencils and take in the striking view along the coast. The air is light and high and glorious. Along the heather-brown ridge, we see distant wind turbines working the air. Over the narrow sound, dark Rousay rises. Alec writes a short poem on a packaging tag in response. He ties it to the rusted remains of a fence and Alistair takes a photograph of the impromptu poetry installation — the poem flapping, the turbines catching the wind behind. We walk on.

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