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Islands project aims to develop sustainable energy systems

By University of the Highlands & Islands

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By Benjamin Williamson, UHI

The island of Eigeroy, Norway. Picture: Frank Emil Moen, Energy Innovation AS
The island of Eigeroy, Norway. Picture: Frank Emil Moen, Energy Innovation AS

Researchers from North Highland College’s Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, are excited to be starting work on a new European project that will address issues of energy generation, supply and greenhouse gas emissions on islands.

ROBINSON is a four-year project bringing together 18 partners from 10 countries across Europe including industry, research institutes, universities and island municipalities, through the ‘Decarbonising energy systems of geographical islands’ topic of the Horizon 2020 framework.

Project partners will work together to develop and deploy an integrated, smart and cost-efficient energy system coupling thermal and electrical networks, which will optimise the utilisation of local renewable energy sources. The project will demonstrate an innovative integrated energy system on the island of Eigerøy in Norway.

The system will include both commercially available and novel energy technologies, and also examples of ‘industrial symbiosis’ where by-products from one industry can be utilised elsewhere in the system, such as organic waste, oxygen and waste heat.

The ambition of ROBINSON is to decrease energy production costs, reduce dependence on mainland power and phase out fossil fuels currently used on Eigeroy within the project timescale.

It aims to develop systems that are replicable to help decarbonise island communities worldwide including the Western Isles here in Scotland and the island of Crete.

The project will seek to encourage business opportunities for local communities in each setting.

The ERI team will characterise the ecological impacts of the demonstration system on Eigeroy throughout its lifecycle and extend this learning to plans for both the Western Isles and Crete.

They will also study the potential socio-economic benefits of on-island energy generation in the Western Isles and lead a working group to engage closely with other EU networks and initiatives with parallel aims such as the Clean Energy for EU Islands Initiative and European Islands Facility.

Dr Mark Walker, part of the ERI ROBINSON team, said: “Island communities often get a rough deal when it comes to energy cost, even where renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biomass and others are plentiful.

"We hope the ROBINSON project can help to resolve this while delivering multiple benefits to local communities and avoiding damage to the environment. Through UHI’s strong links with Scottish islands and their communities, we hope that this project can have direct beneficial impacts and help Scotland transition to a low-carbon future.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are involved in the project and councillor Uisdean Robertson welcomed the scheme.

“Our islands have benefited significantly in engaging with EU projects and partners over the years," he said. "The challenges of ensuring clean, secure and cost-effective supplies of energy are shared across European islands.

"We look forward to benefiting from the learning from this project which aligns well with the Comhairle’s own vision to decrease our islands’ dependency on fossil fuels and become increasingly energy self-sufficient.”

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