Island of Eigg
Green Island in Miniature
Lynda Mitchell, ALIenergy
Scotland has about 90 inhabited islands, mostly to the west and to the north of the
mainland. Oban, where I live on the west coast of the mainland, serves as the ferry
port for transport to many of the western islands.
All the Scottish islands have their own unique character. Island communities are
often isolated and are therefore have a strong sense of identity, and are naturally
inclined to self-sufficiency. Many of the islands have abundant natural resources for
renewable energy generation and there are plenty of examples of community
owned projects, particularly wind turbines.
Eigg is a small island of about 3000 hectares (12 square km), with a resident
population of about 100 people which doubles in summer due to visitors.
The landscape is very rural: scattered houses with a number of community buildings
and small businesses.
This island is now owned by the residents: after decades of problems with absent
landlords, the island was bought out in 1997 by the newly formed Isle of Eigg
Heritage Trust, a partnership between the residents of Eigg, the Highland Council,
and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
This was achieved largely due to the generosity of around ten thousand members of
the general public who believed in the issue of land ownership reform in Scotland.
Gaining control of the island’s assets through its successful campaign for community
ownership was the first step for Eigg.
One of the next main challenges for the community was that this island does not
have a connection to the mainland electricity grid - and there was no prospect of
ever being given one from the privatised utility companies.
Instead, individual homes mostly relied on diesel generators for domestic electricity.
This situation acted as a huge incentive to look at better alternatives.
It took a few years for the islanders to go through the process of comparing the cost
of connecting their island to the UK national electricity grid and the cost of setting
up their own renewable electricity mini grid.
It would have cost £5 million for a 12 mile undersea grid connection to the mainland,
so the islanders began to consider an innovative standalone £1.6 million system
which combined wind, sun and hydro power to make the island self-sufficient in
So, the next major project of the Heritage Trust was to enable the provision of
a miniature mains electricity grid, powered from renewable sources, to develop an
electricity supply that would be environmentally and economically sustainable.
After the year 2000, with the development of the renewable energy sector and an
improved funding landscape both at home in Scotland and in the EU, the choice was
obvious: Eigg had to go for the renewable option!
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust formed a subsidiary trading company, Eigg Electric
Ltd, to organise and operate the new network.
The project was designed and built by contractors Scottish Hydro Contracting with
subcontractors E-Connect Ventures Ltd, Wind and Sun Ltd, Energy Renewed Ltd,
G.G. MacKenzie Contractors Ltd, project managers Synergie Scotland Ltd and the
voluntary contributions of many islanders.
Eigg Electric is in charge of maintaining, servicing and repairing the grid and
administering the prepayment scheme via card meters.
The new renewable energy network consists mainly of hydro power (112kW) plus
some wind power (24kW) and solar PV (initially 10kW; and a further 20kW later
added and more planned).
There is also a bank of rechargeable batteries equivalent to 24hrs of electricity
demand, and also two back up diesel generators (each 80kW), however these are
The system was switched on with much celebration on 1st Feb 2008 - a world leader
in the integration of multiple renewable energy resources into a high voltage grid
system (with 11km of buried cable) to supply an isolated and scattered small island
This project has been conceived and driven by the enthusiasm of the whole
community and is the culmination of 10 years of action and achievement since the
purchase of the island.
The islanders are generally very careful with their electricity use, and achieve an
average domestic electricity use of just half the national average. Each building is
equipped with an electricity monitor to show consumption.
Eigg Electric generates a finite amount of energy and so Eigg residents agreed from
the outset to cap electricity use at 5 kW at any one time for households, with up to
10 kW available for businesses.
Residents paid towards installation, £500 per 5kW connection or £1,000 per 10kW
connection. If these limits are ever exceeded (which happens very rarely) the
electricity will cut off and there is a £20 reconnection charge.
If renewable resources are low, for example in summer when there is less rain and
wind, but more people on the island, an innovative “traffic light” system asks
residents to keep their usage to a minimum. A ‘green light’ means all is normal. A
‘red light’ alerts people to be extra careful at times of shortage and can reduce
demand by up to 20% and this ensures that there is nearly always enough
renewable energy for everyone.
At times when renewable resources are very high, when there is lots of sun, wind
and rain, the batteries are full and there’s excess electricity, then excess power is
diverted to heaters in the community buildings such as the community hall and
church. A pilot projects is underway involving trial of electric vehicles, which can also
act as electric storage batteries.
In 2010, Eigg was announced as one of three joint winners in a national competition,
NESTA's Big Green Challenge, winning a prize of £300,000. This money is helping to
enable further improvements on the island.
Insulation, solar hot water panels, more PV to meet summer demand, transport
(bikes, car sharing and pilot electric car) and local food production are all being
The prize money has allowed a 50% grant for a range of domestic carbon reduction
measures and has of course, created a great feeling of pride in achievement. Island
population is rising, as are local businesses and the numbers of summer visitors ecotourists.
Future work will include developing better management of wood fuel resources for
heating; and the islanders are hoping for a pilot tidal generator project to be
developed with an academic partner.
Overall the island has already achieved almost 100% renewable electricity (and is
expected to achieve 100% with the installation of the next phase of PV) and has cut
carbon emissions by about half so far.
The islanders will continue to work towards a 100% renewable energy and carbon
This project was funded by: European Regional Development Fund, Big Lottery, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, HIE
Lochaber, Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, Scottish Community Household Renewables Initiative,
Energy Saving Trust, Highland Council, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust & the Residents of the Isle of Eigg.