Is Orkney The Sustainable World Of The Future?

Over 100% of the electricity required for the islands is produced by sustainable means.

My first thoughts about the Orkney Islands are of beautiful ancient lands to the far north where Vikings once ruled. The home of Highland Park, one of my favourite single malt whiskies.

But it wasn’t the standing stones or brochs of ancient history that moved me to visit these islands. I came to see the future of the world and the salvation of humanity because I heard that, when it comes to sustainable living, Orkney leads the world.

Renewable Energy

My research told me that over 100% of the electricity for the islands is produced by sustainable means. Mainly the wind. Orkney has been pioneering wind turbines to generate electricity since the 1950s. The first grid-connected wind turbine came online at costa Head in 1951. Now strange giant contraptions float off the shores of Eday, one of Orkneys northerly islands, harvesting the power of the waves and the tides.

The videos I had watched ahead of my trip set expectations that I would find electric cars everywhere. I wondered what else would make it apparent that I was living in a sustainable future that the rest of the world should be developing into. How different would it be living the way we should? What would everyday ordinary people be sacrificing?

I wanted to hire an electric car to get around the islands and experience driving one. Looking online, it seemed well nigh impossible to find an electric car. It was possible to hire an electric camper van but I wasn’t too confident about driving something so big. In the end, I decided I would use the bus network. I expected electric buses.

I looked up the tourist sites to see if there were any tours that would take me offshore to see the experimental wave and tide machines generating energy. JP Orkney Island Tours offers a Renewables tour but it is more related to the history of wind turbine generation.

I started to get the feeling that it was far easier to find a sustainable Orkney on Youtube than it was going to be to find it on the islands themselves.


I flew to Kirkwall airport on the mainland of Orkney. Not sustainable travel for sure but it was the quickest and easiest way to get to Orkney within the week I had allocated to make this trip. In less than an hour from Glasgow Airport, I was touching down in Kirkwall.

I could see wind turbines in every direction as I looked down on the islands from our approach on the plane. It was immediately very obvious where the sustainable power was being harvested.

Wind turbines everywhere generate Orkney’s electricity.

Walking through the town of Kirkwall, history first, then beauty and finally sustainability seemed to be the order of things. I meandered through the ancient streets, in the shadow of the huge St Magnus Cathedral and on down to the picture-postcard harbour.

Spending an easy day relaxing in the town, I took in something of what Kirkwall had to offer. There was a great summary of the history of the islands in the Orkney Museum on Broad Street. With St Magnus Cathedral dominating the skyline from every direction, I simply had to go in and have a look around. Of Viking origin and overtly Christian, St Magnus was martyred in the early 12th century at the conclusion of a quarrel over the rule of the islands.

Of course, there was no danger of me visiting these islands without picking up a bottle of my favourite single malt whisky, Highland Park. Though the actual Highland Park Distillery is located a few miles out of town, I was pleased to find a distillery shop right in the town center where I bought a bottle to accompany my trip.

I stopped in one of the many restaurants for a fish tea before sitting relaxing in the beautiful surroundings of the harbour. Kirkwall has a large Ferry Terminal from where you can visit many of the islands which make up the archipelago of Orkney.

There was an electric charging station in the Bus Station but the buses themselves were not electric. And on the main road through the centre of town, I found a retail outlet offering the hire of electric cars to the residents of Orkney. It was closed. I should note that I never saw any of the cars anywhere during the time of my stay.

So, in a standard bus powered by a diesel engine, I made my way to Orphir and my B&B for the next few nights.

In my next post about the islands, I will discuss my search for the experimental wave and tide generators and what I found on the journey.


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