Energy Diet

Gold at the End of the Rainbow

This week’s blog entry is diverting a little from the prescribed list of topics. It stems from a cross-curricular activity that I was running with the science department, involving the students in S2 (12/13 year olds).

The premise was that there had been a sudden announcement by the U.K. government that there would be no more oil, and that as we were on the periphery, we would be affected immediately (we would only have what was on the island at the time of the announcement.)

We started the day with a crisis decision-making exercise and finished with students producing posters that showed where we could locate sustainable energy on the island, along with some of the drastic changes we would face in the first few months.

Some of the students' posters

What the students realised is that we already have a wide range of renewable energy on the island, but that much of it is very small-scale and would not cover our energy usage. As an island, household use of electricity is much higher that the average on the mainland because we do not have mains gas, which on the mainland is the main source of energy for heating.

What I was not aware of was that the cost of supplying electricity to the island is not covered by the amount we pay. This fact was courtesy of Andrew Macdonald, who came to give the students a talk on the Sound of Islay Tidal Energy Project. Andrew is the tidal energy project officer for the Islay Energy Trust, a community-owned organisation that aims to develop renewable energy projects for the benefit of the community whilst reducing Islay’s carbon footprint. The Tidal Project is for 10 1-megawatt tidal devices (they look like underwater wind turbines) that will turn the very reliable, fast-flowing tide in the Sound of Islay into electricity, hence the title of the blog and the picture of the sound at the beginning.

The turbines will be 33 metres tall, in 50 metres of water so that the ferry still has access and there is no danger of boats being caught up in them. They are due to be installed some time in 2013, costing some £20 million pounds each. They will not give Islay and Jura cheap electricity — there will be slack periods when we will still have to import from the national grid, less sustainable energy. However is is nice to know that we will be producing enough electricity from the resources around the island for 5,000 homes (1,200 more than we have!).


  1. Christina Nunez
    June 20, 2011, 2:48 pm

    What a great exercise to do with your students, Vanessa. Did any of their ideas stand out, in particular, or was there a common theme? Love the rainbow photo.

  2. Chad Lipton
    June 21, 2011, 10:13 am

    Vanessa–You might already be aware, but the Scottish govt is involved in the Saltire Prize. It is a £10 million award for innovative breakthroughs in wave and tidal energy.

    June 24, 2011, 7:26 am