The wind turbines must be turned off on a daily basis, as the power cables have reached capacity, leaving the clean energy unused.
Instead of wasting the extra electricity, the islands decided to harness it. It was here that in 2017, the European Center for Marine Energy (EMEC), in the first world, used tidal energy to split water and make hydrogen – a process known as electrolysis.
This was just the beginning. The success of this project spurred cooperation between EMEC and Community Energy Scotland and others to do the same with the extra wind energy. Surf ‘n’ Turf, a Scottish government-funded project, collects excess electricity from the tidal wind turbines to produce hydrogen, another world first.
But conventional hydrogen production is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels and is responsible for 830 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This is equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined, according to the International Energy Agency.
Hydrogen energy production is still expensive, but Orkney’s success in producing hydrogen using clean energy demonstrates that it can be done widely. The islands already use hydrogen to power the vehicles, and they are Will soon be used to heat a local primary school.
Orkney now hopes to use hydrogen fuel cells to power a ship capable of carrying cargo and passengers.
“We hope the world will be first,” said Emek’s hydrogen director, John Klebsheim. “There is an ongoing race.”
– Jenny Mark contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that hydrogen energy was being used to run a primary school.