Orkney’s Responsive Flexibility project: ReFLEX Orkney

The Orkney Islands have been leading the way in transitioning to renewable energy generation for decades. Orkney has a long-standing heritage as a national location for testing modern wind turbine technology with the first deployment in the 1950s followed by the world’s largest wind turbine (3 MW) of the time being tested between 1984 and 1997. Today, Orkney generates over 100% of its electricity demand from renewables (mostly wind and solar) and has done since 2013.

Having paved the way as a renewable energy test bed, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), the world’s first wave and tidal energy demonstration facility, was set up in 2003. Since then more ocean energy technologies have been tested in Orkney than any other site in the world.

Due to the high level of renewable generation locally, the grid connecting Orkney to the Scottish mainland is now at capacity thus potentially limiting Orkney from harnessing its full renewables potential. To counter this, EMEC began investigating various storage solutions and invested in an electrolyser in 2016 to demonstrate the generation of hydrogen from local renewable electricity. This has led to numerous green hydrogen projects across Orkney, furthering Orkney’s focus on decarbonisation.

The local community are at the heart of this revolution, with 10% of homes on Orkney having microgeneration (compared to 2.8% UK average) and 375% more electrical vehicles per home than the UK average.

The latest stage of the energy system revolution in Orkney is the Responsive Flexibility (ReFLEX) Orkney demonstration project. This three-year project, funded by the UKRI through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, is being led by EMEC with the following partners:

  • Solo Energy
  • Aquatera
  • Doosan Babcock
  • Community Energy Scotland
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Orkney Islands Council

The total value of the project is £28.5 million. The project aims to create an integrated energy system (IES), digitally linking electricity supply and demand. In simple terms, the IES will play the role of a balancing mechanism between renewable energy generators, energy storage facilities and electricity consumers. Crucially, this will work across the heat, power and transport sectors helping to decarbonise the entire energy system.

At the heart of ReFLEX Orkney is the deployment of a wide range of flexible assets with ambitious plans to roll out domestic and commercial batteries, electric vehicles, smart charging infrastructure and a large combined heat and power fuel cell running off green hydrogen. This pioneering project will help Orkney maximise the potential of its significant renewable generation capabilities, help to ensure higher quality and more affordable energy services, as well as further lowering the county’s carbon footprint by decreasing reliance on imported carbon-intensive grid electricity from the UK mainland.

Another important outcome of the project is that the created blueprint will be exported and replicated across other islands around the globe.

A first-hand view of the project can be found in this video.