Global, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society, Economy and regeneration, Technology

Small island, big ambitions


Image credit: Andrea Grochowski

Shetland Energised

While Shetland is the northern-most region in Scotland, it is far from being at the edge of everything. It sits right in the heart of Scotland’s energy industry. The Sullom Voe Terminal saw over one million barrels of oil pass through it each day during its peak in the 1980s. Although the production has decreased over the decades, the terminal still produces over 100,000 barrels per day.

With the ever-prevalent understanding that the energy industry is shifting rapidly to new technologies and alternative sources, now is the time for Shetland to lead the way alongside the other Scottish Isles. Shetland has a wealth of local knowledge in oil and gas, engineering, and supply chain work. These sectors and the organisations involved will be given the chance to be in the vanguard of the transition.

Over the years, Shetland has proven that it is an innovative place through several schemes, including:

  • SHEAP – one of the largest district heating schemes in the UK established in 1991.
  • Pure Energy Centre in Unst – the first company in the world to install a completely off-grid hydrogen electrolyser system all owned by a community in 2005.
  • Nova Innovation – the world’s first commercial tidal array in 2016, followed quickly by the world’s first tidal powered EV charging point in Yell in 2018.

This drive for innovation comes from the natural resources that give the islands so much of their character and culture. Shetland is the windiest location in the UK and as a result, it has ample wind, tidal, and wave resources for powering homes and businesses locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. With companies and organisations around the world looking to test and implement new technologies to benefit from these resources, it is important to do so in a holistic manner.

Shetland’s rugged environment is one of its most important features, whether it be the rolling peatland hills, striking sea cliffs, or the hundreds of sea inlets – locally called ‘voes’. Shetland Islands Council (SIC) is emphasising the opportunities to re-use and repurpose existing oil and gas production sites and infrastructure to transition to a clean energy future, thereby reducing the development impact on the natural landscape of Shetland, as renewable energy projects are planned.

Council Commitment to Reducing Carbon

The SIC recently established dedicated teams covering the areas of climate change, energy efficiency and future energy – to make sure that Shetland engages fully in climate change measures, reduces its energy use and is not left behind during the necessary global transition away from fossil fuels. The Future Energy Team, comprised of five members, is working to understand the options and opportunities for Shetland as the energy transition proceeds.

The wider ORION Clean Energy Project is a strategic framework connecting organisations with a common ambition: to transform the Shetland region into a centre for secure and affordable clean energy. The project explores the opportunities in demand for and production of alternative clean energy utilising the islands’ existing energy infrastructure. The project takes a collaborative approach with both private and public organisations across a range of sectors while investing time, knowledge, and funding.

Another active project is the Shetland Clean Energy Project (SCEP) which is an integral component of the umbrella Islands Centre for Net Zero Project (ICNZ). Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are establishing ICNZ to address the need for fundamental change in how the islands approach energy transition by sharing ambitions and resources. SCEP sets out Shetland’s particular ambitions for transforming energy use and calculates that the production and use of green hydrogen is the preferred way forward to achieve net zero targets.

Image credit: Shetland Islands Council

Big Ambitions

Though Shetland is a major extraction area for oil and gas in the UK, the price of the fossil fuels used on the islands is one of the highest in the country. This contradiction is explained by the lack of a refinery on the isles. Oil produced through Shetland is shipped away to be refined before being then being imported at a much higher cost for consumption. Producing its own clean fuels on the islands would allow Shetland to bypass import costs and increase energy security for the community.

Shetland also has some of the highest fuel poverty rates in Scotland. Replacing Shetland’s fossil fuel dependency with locally generated affordable renewable energy is a key challenge that the SIC is undertaking. In addition to exploring alternative energy sources and uses, the SIC has a team dedicated to increasing efficiency in public buildings and the entirety of the SIC estate, as well as providing assistance and resources for private homeowners.

The Shetland Partnership Plan has a target outcome that;

“All areas of Shetland will be benefitting from a more resilient low carbon economy underpinned by a culture of innovation, inclusion and skills development.”

Ambitious alternative energy projects like ORION & SCEP will help fuel a clean energy future for Shetland, Scotland and further afield. It will also power economic prosperity in the isles for generations to come. Though each region has unique resources and opportunities, the SIC embraces the knowledge built through the experiences of the local authorities across Scotland. Through further collaboration and information sharing, we can build upon our local resources, knowledge and skillsets to promote a net zero Scotland.

Image credit: Shetland Islands Council


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