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Energy-independent island

Peter Geoghegan, Eigg / al
March 6, 2014

The Scottish island of Eigg is one of the world's first islands to power itself exclusively with renewable energy. Locals say the change has boosted their quality of life, and that their energy bills are dropping.

Wind turbines on Eigg in Scotland
Image: W. L. Tarbert

It's a sunny afternoon on the island of Eigg, off Scotland's north-west coast. The sun's bright rays are good news for Eddie Scott. The island's electricity expert looks after the island's state-of-the-art renewable energy scheme.

"The system has been running about five years and it works at an average of about 85 percent from renewables and 15 percent from the generators," Scott explains.

Before the introduction of "Eiggtricty," as people call it around here, the hundred or so residents on Eigg got all of their power from diesel generators that were noisy, polluting and expensive to run.

"I was buying a barrel of diesel a month to get five hours of electricity a day," Scott told DW. "Now I get 24-hour electricity and it costs me about 30 pounds (36.44 euros) a month."

Perfect conditions

Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Eigg gets more than its fair share of wind. From the sub-stations near the wind turbines and solar cells, a series of underground cables deliver power to homes across the island. To ensure there is enough energy for everyone, islanders cannot use more than five kilowatts at a time. For businesses, the limit is 10 kilowatts. A lot of the time though, says Eddie Scott, the island actually produces more energy than it consumes.

A hut at Bay of Laig on Eigg
Life on Eigg just got a little bit more excitingImage: picture alliance / Jean Brooks/Robert Harding

The standalone electricity scheme is not the only thing that is unusual about Eigg. Since 1997, the island has been owned by its residents, a situation almost unique in Scotland, where large land owners are still commonplace.

Owning the island has empowered the people of Eigg, says Maggie Fyffe who came here to work in the 1970s. She went on to spearhead the community buyout of the island.

"Eigg has improved enormously over the last 15 years," she said. "A lot of employment has been created. We have a lot of young people coming back to live here."

Anyone who lives on the island for more than six months a year automatically becomes a member of the residents' committee. It was at these monthly committee meetings that the idea for a renewable energy scheme first emerged.

"Electricity was brought up at every meeting, where folk would want to see wind turbines," says Fyffe. After a callout for local investment, it didn't take long for the new electricity scheme to then become reality.

Changing lives

On the far side of the island, away from the mainland, waves crash on a fine sand beach. Local postman John Cormack stands on the porch of his wooden house as the sun sets over the Bay of Laig. Previously he would have been without light until the next morning, but not anymore.

"I had a petrol generator, which I used occasionally, but otherwise I just survived without electricity," he says. "When I got this, it revolutionized my life."

Up the road, in her cottage, Maggie Fyffe doesn't have to think too hard about the biggest benefit of Eiggtricity. "Just being able to put a light on if you need to go and pee in the middle of the night," she laughs.

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