Eigg’s Green Revolution
Islanders like Sue, a teacher at the school, are used to their lives being dictated to by the elements. A single standing stone offers the only sustained resistance to the wind on the high blown, treeless plateau in the centre of Eigg. Gales frequently stop the ferry from reaching the island and encourage a spirit of independence and resourcefulness in its people.
Their resilience has helped residents turn the very elements that so dominate island life to their advantage. Sue’s cup of tea was boiled with renewable energy generated on the island. In fact every household on Eigg is now hooked into an electricity grid that is powered by a mix of community owned hydro, solar and wind energy.
A year ago the island, which is too far from the mainland to be connected to the mains, celebrated the completion of a £1.7 Million electrification project to hook the ninety odd residents up with home - grown, green power. A 100kW hydro electric scheme is supported by four small wind generators and bank of solar electric cells. Power is distributed, via bank of powerful batteries, around the island in underground cables.
To control demand residents are restricted to a maximum of 5kW of energy in their homes at any one time. Sue has an energy monitor fixed above the sink in her kitchen where it gives a constant reading of her energy use. “I’m always on the look out for low energy appliances,” said Sue. “Last week I was thrilled to find an electric kettle that boils water with 1.5kW rather than 3kW.”
If Sue, or any other household on Eigg, exceeds the 5kW limit the electricity supply is automatically tripped and she has to pay a reconnection fee of £20. This only happened to Sue once, when she put the washing machine and the dishwasher on together. “It is a good incentive to think carefully about what we are switching on at home, and when,” adds Sue.
Energy efficiency is nothing new to Eigg residents. Before the electricity grid was installed householders depended on noisy diesel generators that produced less energy at a greater cost. “This has made a huge difference to us,” Sue says. “Electricity is now far cheaper and far more reliable.”
The key to constantly keeping the lights on using green energy from the West Coast’s fickle climate has been in using a mix of renewable technologies. The hydro scheme provides back up for the wind turbines on calm days, just as solar power makes up for the drop in rainfall over the summer months.
Community participation and ownership has also been critical to the projects success. Residents contributed over £200,000 to the project thought the Eigg Trust and dedicated an enormous amount of volunteer time and effort into its development. “This is our system - uniquely adapted to the islands scattered community - and it works,” Sue says proudly.
Eigg residents could be forgiven for sitting back and feeling rather smug about their green credentials. But their new energy supply has invigorated debate in the community about how even deeper cuts can be made in the island’s carbon dependence. The Eigg Trust is the only Scottish finalist for the NESTA lottery backed Big Green Challenge. Ideas for how to best invest the potential £1 million pounds of funding from the Challenge include solar panelling, wood fuel, electric cars and more local food production.
Which is where Sue’s organic gardening skills come in. Her immaculate beds spread out in a fan shape from her back step, each fertilised with seaweed collected from the shoreline. “I’m thinking of cutting back on work to dedicate more time to the croft,” she tells me. “We want to concentrate harder on providing food for the community and becoming more self sufficient in every aspect of our lives.”