Islay's local energy system

Port Ellen Ferry Terminal and the Port Ellen Maltings

Islay, as with other island communities in Scotland, faces multiple challenges in terms of its physical geography, building stock and infrastructure. It also has unique opportunities to develop an innovative and integrated local energy system that can deliver sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

The Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Argyll and Bute Council are working with Local Energy Scotland to promote a collective approach to developing Islay’s local energy system. This approach looks at how energy is generated, supplied and consumed on Islay and the surrounding islands of Jura and Colonsay, and how this can benefit the local community.

What is a local energy system?

Local energy systems link the supply and demand of energy services within a defined area across electricity, heat and transport, recognising the effect each area has on others. The creation of ‘innovative local energy systems’ is one of the six strategic priorities identified in Scotland’s Energy Strategy, the Scottish Government’s vision for the future of energy in Scotland. It recognises that energy systems that are designed and developed in line with local needs and aspirations can create secure and sustainable low carbon economies.

Why Islay?

Islay and its neighbouring islands face many energy related challenges. These include:

  • a constrained electricity supply network
  • high fuel and transport costs
  • clustering of energy intensive users
  • fuel-consumption is mostly fossil-based
  • low local energy generation
  • an undeveloped tidal and offshore wind resource.

Taking a holistic and collaborative cross-sector approach to these challenges will benefit both the local community and industry.

  • Electricity - The existing grid currently has limited capacity to take on new generation, and the grid infrastructure on, and leading to the islands will need significant reinforcement. Electrical demand is dominated by the distillery sector.
  • Heat - Producing heat is the main energy requirement for distillery activities. Oil is also the main fuel used in heating many island homes and businesses. Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels will require changing to alternative fuel and electric heating solutions.
  • Transport - Ferry and air connections to the islands support movement of goods and materials for the distilleries, tourism and community-based services. There are opportunities to consider how these and local transport services can be supported by future changes to the local energy system.

What’s happened so far?

During 2020 we’ve talked with individual, community, public and private stakeholders who either live on Islay or provide services and operate businesses based in Islay. These discussions have confirmed the importance of promoting a joined up and integrated approach to decisions about how energy is generated, supplied and consumed.

A public event was planned for the summer of 2020; however, because of recent COVID-19 restrictions this has postponed until the end of 2020 or early 2021. We are currently investigating ways to hold an online event that will be accessible to as many people as possible.

Wood Environment and Infrastructure Services has been appointed to carry out a high-level options appraisal over the summer and autumn of 2020.

Options Appraisal

The options appraisal will collect information on the area’s existing energy demand and will outline several different scenarios that could maximise the creation of a local energy system. These scenarios will take a whole -system approach covering power, heat and transport. The appraisal will place the needs of the individual and business consumer at its centre to ensure that any future system will be sustainable and support inclusive economic growth.

The appraisal intends to provide high-level options scenarios of what is technically possible and to identify the possible challenges and restrictions.

Is funding available?

Argyll and Bute Council, working with both the UK and Scottish Governments, is developing the Argyll and Bute Rural Growth Deal. This includes the ‘Creating a Low Carbon Economy for Islay’ project. The Deal is expected to be finalised in 2021.

The proposed project will examine the use of smart grid technologies to improve energy provision, reduce cost and support local growth. It will be based on a mix of public and private funding. The options appraisal will provide a strong background to realise any opportunities that may bring future public and private investment. Further information on the proposed project can be found in the Rural Growth Deal (Proposal 15, page 22).

Initiative that are identified may be eligible for funding through the following:

For more information contact Ross Jones.