Outer Hebrides Featured in International Energy Transition Research

Issued by Highlands and Islands Enterprise: An Energy Local Club, where communities work together to match energy supply and demand and invest in clean energy, offers a solution to reduce household energy costs in the Outer Hebrides, where 40 per cent of the population live in fuel poverty.

An international research project also highlighted exploring energy storage solutions and the importance of helping householders understand the best energy efficiency measures and domestic renewable energy technologies. The project focused on putting local communities at the heart of achieving a low carbon future.

The Responsible Research and Innovation Policy Experimentations for Energy Transition project (RIPEET) examined the impacts and benefits of bringing together communities, businesses, academia, government and the environmental sector to explore and deliver sustainable energy solutions. In particular, RIPEET looked at local energy supply options, energy efficiency strategies, and household renewable generation options to help minimise household bills and address fuel poverty.

The three-year project was funded from the EU’s largest ever research and innovation programme, the €80bn Horizon 2020. As well as the Highlands and Islands, RIPEET worked with project partners from across Europe and communities in Extremadura in Spain, and Ostrobothnia in Finland.

The Scottish project was managed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Community Energy Scotland (CES), who approved a joint bid by UHI North, West and Hebrides and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to undertake research on the Outer Hebrides local energy economy, as a case study for other Highland and Islands communities.

Sarah Marshall, senior project manager at HIE, said: “The project explored what the ideal regional energy system would look like locally in 15-20 years’ time. With 40 per cent of households in fuel poverty in the Outer Hebrides, this emerged as a priority area of action. The vision is to reduce fuel poverty, improve collaboration and better utilise locally generated energy. The report explores the next steps to achieving that.

“A key to the success of the project was the inspiring partnership with CES, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, UHI North, West and Hebrides, and local organisations. The benefits of working together are clear to see. It’s heartening to see that next steps highlighted through RIPEET are likely to be picked up by other regional energy transition initiatives such as the Islands Centre for Net Zero and Fast Followers.”

The project included €50,000 of funding for an ‘open call’ for a project to help achieve the energy vision. The results of the project have been summarised in two reports. Recommendations included:

  • Establishment of an Energy Local Club to closely match energy supply and demand and where local communities work together to invest in clean energy
  • Exploring an existing research group for piloting energy storage solutions
  • Attracting further investment
  • More support to be given to householders to help them to understand the most appropriate energy efficiency measures and domestic renewable energy technologies.
  • Better understanding of grant availability and application processes.

Island households and installers were surveyed to get their views on the most realistic household strategies for a just and sustainable energy transition.

Dr Michael M Smith, programme leader for MSc in Sustainable Rural Development, a new Masters programme launching at UHI North, West and Hebrides in September, led on the research. He said: “High fuel costs, poor energy efficiency, climatic exposure and below average household incomes all conspire to create a fuel poverty crisis in the islands. 

“Through the EU Horizon funded project, we understand the ongoing challenges better and have been able to explore potential and innovative solutions to support a widespread community-based transition moving forward. I am also delighted that we’ve had the opportunity to share our findings with other regions with similar challenges across Europe and at the same time hear about their solutions to very similar challenges.”

Matthew Logan, Island Centre for Net Zero Outer Hebrides manager at CES, said: "We were really happy to see Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and UHI North, West and Hebrides collaborate on the Outer Hebrides Local Energy Economy Pilot Project as part of RIPEET. Both organisations had been involved in the ‘Transition Lab’ stakeholder group throughout the RIPEET project and therefore had a good understanding of which issues had emerged as energy priorities for local organisations and representatives, primarily enabling locally generated energy to be supplied to householders in the Outer Hebrides. 

“It was great to see the ‘co-creation’ approach embraced by CnES and UHI NWH, this involved regularly discussing the pilot with local stakeholders, in particularly with community groups voicing householders issues, and taking on their feedback to shape the development and outcomes of the project. The work carried out through the pilot project produced useful insight into motivations and challenges householder face when looking to adopt domestic renewable and energy efficiency technologies, as well as reviewing a number of local energy supply models. This has set a good foundation for further research and trial projects which will help address fuel poverty in the Western Isles. 

“Community generators across the Islands have long held the ambitions to supply energy locally and remain interested in exploring the outcomes from the pilot project and being involved in any trial opportunities that emerge.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work on these issues in collaboration with a full range of local partners with community voices at the centre of our efforts. Initiatives such as the Islands Centre for Net Zero provide an ideal opportunity to do so."

Councillor Donald Crichton, said: “With the ongoing uncertainty around energy tariffs and with the cost-of-living crisis continuing to affect our island population, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomed the opportunity to collaborate on this project.

“Undertaking several connected work packages covering a range of technical options to promote the much-needed journey out of fuel poverty, the opportunity to develop a local energy economy, embracing our many renewable energy sources, is now very real. Future scopes including offshore wind, hydrogen and battery storage to address the intermittency of existing renewables, will all bolster the Comhairle’s vision for a locally run energy supply company.

“The RIPEET project has allowed us to review previous strategies and bring new legislations into our island context. Current negotiations with our electricity network distribution operators, along with several related procurement options are being actively progressed. Bolstered by a recently funded Innovate UK post dedicated to reducing fuel poverty through decarbonisation, the Comhairle is making headway into an energy solution for the benefit of all island residents currently using grid-connected electricity and domestic gas.”

The reports from RIPEET are being hosted on the CES website.