Eigg – a model for a sustainable energy future

A short distance off the west coast of Scotland lies the island of Eigg, area 15 square miles, population 87 (2005). It has never had a grid connection to the mainland, so historically its residents have either had to generate their own electricity from diesel generators or go without.

Eigg scenery

Then on the 1st of February 2008 everything changed. Eigg proudly switched on its new power system, which generates around 90% of the island’s electricity from renewables and feeds it to consumers through a smart grid. In 2010 the system won a £300,000 share of the National Endowment for the Arts and Sciences Big Green Challenge award and also the prestigious Ashden gold award for energy efficiency. It’s been hailed as a example of how renewable energy can be made to work, and as a model for a sustainable energy future.

So using Eigg as our model, let’s see what a sustainable energy future might hold for us.

First some details on the Eigg electric system (data sources are listed at the end of the post). It has a total installed nameplate capacity of 333 kW, made up of three hydroelectric plants of 100, 10 and 19 kW. Here’s the 100 kW plant:

Plus 24 kW of wind in the shape of four 6kW turbines:

Plus 30 kW of solar panels (8 kW to begin with, 22 kW added later):

Plus two 80 kW backup diesel generators (no picture available) to deliver power when renewable generation is insufficient to meet demand. (80 kW is the capacity given by Eigg Electric. According to the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust there are two 64kW generators that operate alternately. However, the diesel generators provide less than 10% of the electricity used in a year.)

Additional backup is provided by 60 kW of lead-acid batteries with 3 hours 40 minutes duration at rated output, representing ~220 kWh of storage capacity:

Power from these different sources is integrated into the the local high-voltage (no details on how high) smart grid through a series of inverters and a multicluster box:

The total cost of the system was £1,664,828, or £5,353/kW for the 311 kW in the initial installation, which is not out of line for a small-scale remote installation. Eigg’s residents also get remarkably cheap electricity considering the island’s location, paying a flat rate of £0.20/kWh for power consumed plus a daily standing charge of £0.12 for a 5 kW connection and £0.15 for a 10 kW connection, not much more than they would pay on the mainland.

And since the system was installed Eigg’s CO2 emissions have fallen by 47%, from 8.4 to 4.45 tonnes/year per household. 

So what’s not to like?

Well, there are a few things.

First, the Eigg system is almost unbelievably inefficient. Eigg Electric Ltd. publishes no performance data, but based on the data that are available the annual load factor for the total 333 kW of installed capacity on the island is less than 4%. Here are the numbers (if anyone has better ones please feel free to present them):

333 kW installed capacity times 8,760 hours/year = 2,917,180 kWh/year at a 100% load factor.

Average annual electricity consumption = 2,160 kWh per household, times 50 households = 108,000 kWh/year.

Load factor = 108,000/2,917,180 times 100 = 3.7%.

If we exclude the 160 kW of backup diesel capacity and its ~10% contribution to total generation the load factor for combined hydro+wind+solar is still only 6.4%.

Second, the Eigg system is hopelessly uneconomic. The levelized cost of Eigg electricity given by the NREL calculator assuming a 20-year life, £5,000/kW installed cost, a 4% capacity factor, a 3% discount rate and a £150/kW/yr O&M cost is £1.38/kWh. (Eigg Electric can get away with charging only £0.20/kWh because it got the system effectively for free. The island contributed only ~4% of the project’s £1,664,828 capital cost – £92,761 from the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust and local residents less maybe £35,000 recouped in hookup fees – and this expenditure was  more than offset by the £300,000 award Eigg received from the National Endowment for the Arts and Sciences in 2010. The other ~96% came from grants from organizations such as the European Regional Development Fund and the Scottish Households Renewables Initiative.)

Third, the system makes no attempt to match supply to demand. Instead it manages demand by setting low consumption limits to begin with and then by cutting the power off (and fining the violator) when these limits are exceeded:

Eigg manages electricity demand mainly by capping the instantaneous power that can be used to 5 kW for a household and 10 kW for a business. If usage goes over the limit, the electricity supply is cut off and the maintenance team must be called to come and switch it back on again. If the limit is exceeded and one of the maintenance teams is called out to turn the power back on, a £20 charge may be levied …

All households and businesses have an OWL energy monitor, which displays current and cumulative electricity usage and sounds an alarm when consumption reaches a user-defined level, usually set a few hundred watts below the actual limit.

Demand is also managed by warning the entire island when renewable energy  generation is lower than demand and the diesel backup generators are operating – a so-called ‘red light day’, as opposed to ‘green light days’ when there is sufficient renewable energy. Residents then take steps to temporarily reduce electricity demand further still, or postpone demand until renewable energy generation has increased.

(The emphasis on “renewable energy generation” suggests an unwillingness to start up the backup diesel generators even though they should be more than capable of filling demand. One can question whether there’s any point in having them if they’re not going to be used to keep the lights on, but keeping CO2 emissions low seems to be the priority at the moment.)

Fourth, despite the aggressive demand management practices there have still been a number of “red-light” days when renewable energy generation failed to deliver. A prolonged period of red light days occurred just before Eigg received the Ashden award in the summer of 2010, when the island enjoyed an extended spell of unusually fine weather during which the wind died, little rain fell and the reservoir level dropped below the turbine intake. For some weeks the islanders were back to boiling kettles with gas, but they took it all in stride. As one of them interviewed by the Daily Mail said: “Of course the drought has hit us hard. But whatever people say, there’s no question the project’s been a massive success. We are all delighted with it here.”

So there you have it. Despite its defects Eigg’s model of a sustainable energy future is regarded as a triumph by the island’s residents:

 But whether it will play in Peoria, Paisley and Paris is another question.

Data sources:

Eigg Electric

Case study summary, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust

Sustainable energy supplies for the Isle of Eigg

DOE energy storage database

Eigg Electric – Community Renewables

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55 Responses to Eigg – a model for a sustainable energy future

  1. Euan Mearns says:

    Roger, I think this is a beautiful and timely post. For those not fully up to speed with how renewable energy works, most of the cost is up front in the devices that gather wind, solar and water power. Thereafter it is “virtually free”. And so if you gift someone renewable infrastructure (at great cost) the energy thereafter comes free.

    I work out that we just gifted £33,297 worth of energy to every household on Eigg.

    To be sure there is some common sense in this scheme, but it does not fit into the traditional capitalist way of doing things.

  2. Joe Public says:

    Very interesting perspective.

    Considering the globe’s temperature resolutely refuses to rise in step with CO2 concentrations, schemes such as this are truly unsustainable.

    “I work out that we just gifted £33,297 worth of energy to every household on Eigg.”

    However, it’s stated that “The total cost of the system was £1,664,828”; there are 87 residents, say 40 households, so the capital cost is approx £41k each household. Do we know if each household contributed £8k?

  3. Hugh Sharman says:

    A brilliant analysis! Thanks! As you say, very timely!

    I echo Willem. Those lead acid batteries might last 5 years but most likely 3 years. I seriously question whether the maunfacturer of the 6 kW wind turbines will be around before serious O&M issues arise.

    I cannot believe that the water turbine can or will ever deliver 100 kW.

    However, my curiosity is fully aroused and if ever I am close, I will certainly visit Eigg, where I tried (not very hard) to flog a vanadium redox flow battery!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I think that 100 kW hydro plant is probably one of the main causes of low load factor. These island rivers flow when it rains but dry up very quickly afterwards. So it may manage 100 kW at peak but a lot less for most of the time.

    • Hugh and Euan: I think you may be right about the hydro plant running at a very low load factor.

      The wind and solar is “use it or lose it” capacity. That burst of sunshine or gust of wind won’t come again, so you might as well use it while it’s there. But as soon as water from the hydro reservoir goes through the turbine, it’s gone. You can’t get it back again. The reservoir is like a storage battery, and you don’t want to discharge it any more than you have to. So wind and solar will be at the top of the Eigg “merit order”.

      With a bit of help from the storage batteries and the backup diesel generators wind and solar are also capable of supplying most if not all of Eigg’s electricity consumption all by themselves. With load factors of 9% for solar and 35% for wind (windy place, Eigg) they would generate almost 100,000 kWh/year.

    • Mark Hirst says:

      5 year life? MEH!

      From personal experience the batteries shown are extremely long lived if properly maintained. The batteries appear to be Rolls-Surrette model 2-YS-31PS. Those monsters weigh in at 129kg each and are rated at 2V with 2430A-hrs of storage and a 15 year rated life assuming 3300 discharge cycles. They last much longer if only discharged 10%-20% per cycle.

      I have a 12V 4kWhr battery bank using Rolls-Surrette CH-375 batteries that are now 16 years old and have shown no loss in capacity. I just upgraded my solar system to a 48V 20kWhr system using 8 Rolls S-550 series batteries knowing that I can expect them to last about 20 years.

      In my case it was lower cost to build a purpose built “power house” out building with a 4kW solar array, 20kWhr battery bank and a 6kW “Xantrax” split phase inverter than to pay the ‘hook-up’ fees to the local utility. The local also charges $30 USD each month just to maintain the connection and energy use is billed separately. I’m already money ahead (with a new building to boot) and the avoided monthly fee would pay for a complete new system every 20 years if needed.

  4. john robert brough aka energy bear says:

    This is my first comment on this blog or any other, so please excuse my lack of elliquence.

    Very interesting report on energy status on isle of Eigg
    Of course this is why voting yes in tomorrows referendum is a ‘no brainer’ for all people living in Scotland, because I have heard nobody from either side of the yes/no debate talk about the most basic of natural resources, that of land. Scotland is very roughly the same geographic area as England, but is only expected to to support one tenth of the population.
    I live in England in a small parish on the outskirts of the market town Congleton in the county of Cheshire. As with many small parishes in England we are about to be developed. Our prime agricultural land is going to be dug up and replaced by a road infrastructure, industrial development and housing. Sad as this is, what is interesting is that the housing developers, the would be indusrialists and the local council authority are fighting amongst themselves as how best to dispose of our beautiful parish. Due to population growth in England sustainable living (such as that on Eigg) is an ever unobtainable goal and my advise to those in Scotland is to get out of this doomed union and fight like hell for a sustainable future.

  5. Roger, isn’t it a little obtuse to complain that the levelised cost of energy on Eigg is £1.38 / kWh?
    Of course it is – they used micro turbines, micro hydro, and don’t have robust and predictive storage or demand response systems in place.

    If you were wanting to replicate this type of a system ‘at scale’ – perhaps 100,000 people instead of 100 – you would of course use the most fiscally efficient hardware (and software I might add), and would likely end up with a LCoE an order of magnitude smaller.

    How does setting up strawman arguments ‘play’ in Paris?

    • Matthew: To make a strawman argument one first has to make an argument, and I was merely stating a fact. According to the NREL calculator, and unless the numbers given by Eigg Electric are miles out of whack, the levelized cost of electricity on Eigg is indeed around £1.38/kWh.

      But this doesn’t mean that £1.38/kWh is a representative cost for renewable energy. What it means is that the Eigg system is grossly overdesigned. Eigg’s hydro+wind+solar capacity should be capable of operating at an average load factor of around 40%, roughly ten times higher than what it actually operates at, and at a 40% load factor the levelized cost drops to £0.138/kWh.

      But the system can’t operate at that load factor because if it did it would generate far more electricity than the island consumes, and since this electricity has nowhere to go it would all have to be “spilt”.

      The bottom line is that Eigg has far more installed renewable capacity than it can use.

      • There is nothing factually incorrect about your article – I agree, and there is obviously merit in stating facts and explicating data, which is why I read this blog in the first place.

        I think that my objection is to the framing of the post – why I used the word ‘obtuse’ – and to the motivation for writing it, which appears to be “I’m going to show why a renewables-only grid doesn’t (can’t?) work”.

        There are plenty of ways you could make that particular argument, but relieving oneself upon the Isle of Eigg from a great height seems like a particularly unkind and unnecessary way to go about it.

        • Graham Palmer says:

          I think the interesting thing about Eigg (and other isolated systems such as King Island that I have written about elsewhere) is that they give us real-world examples of actual functional systems. The necessity for overbuild/storage illustrates the gap between what is technically possible at a micro-scale, and what is practically achievable at a macro-scale on a national or global scale. Granted, a scaled-up Eigg would be comparatively cheaper per capita, but these interesting schemes are only possible because of the energy subsidy provided by the rest of society.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          Sorry Matthew, but I don’t see where you’re coming from here. The article, as you note, was factual, and your interpretation of my motivation for writing it is way off base.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Matthew, please hang around. There are always different perspectives and part of the reason for blogging is to gauge where the middle ground or truth lies. I sense you are emotionally involved while myself and Roger tend to look at numbers and charts.

          I do not begrudge the people of Eigg the system they have. But I would be interested to know if they are happy with it. But it is the extrapolation of that system into the mainland that presents the thermodynamic problem.

      • “The bottom line is that Eigg has far more installed renewable capacity than it can use.”

        Apparently NOT, given days where the shortages are acute.

        The problem is that the “capacity” of renewables is unreliable. While the average load factor may be only a few percent of the nominal capacity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that at the time of the load, that the system is capable of supplying more electrical power.

        The reliable capacity of all wind and solar is zero. Micro-hydro is “drought”-sensitive. Battery storage is only useful if “excess” above the demand is being generated. Recovery efficiency out of lead-acid batteries is variable, depending on load and charge current densities as well as the state of charge (SoC); but seldom better than 80%. i.e. put in 10 kWh and expect no more than 8kWh back out.

        A smart operator would charge up the batteries to near-full (approx 85%) using diesel generators whenever they have to be running for another purpose. That maximises the operating efficiency of the diesels, leaves a bit of headroom in case there is a surplus from “renewables” and it doesn’t over-exercise the SoC of the batteries.

        P.S. I note that the PV panel pictured seems to be more configured to maximise “white sky radiation”; typical of where there are mostly cloudy skies. Insolation is then however well below the 1-sun nominal of 1kW/m²; it may be around 100W/m²; so the nominal capacity of the PV systems should be de-rated accordingly.

        • Berndt:

          You’re correct in saying that if Eigg runs out of renewable electricity every so often then it doesn’t in fact have more renewable capacity than it can use. But as you also point out there are occasions when a renewable system will generate no power no matter how large it is, such as when there’s no wind, the reservoirs are dry and the sun has set.

          I guess what I should have said is that Eigg has more renewable capacity than it can use for most of the time 😉

          As I mentioned in the text the intriguing question is why they didn’t crank the two 80 kW diesel generators up when their renewable energy went down in 2010, which they appear not to have done because these generators should have been more than capable of supplying island demand all by themselves, particularly if the storage batteries were used to handle any demand surges. I suspect it’s because the number one priority is to preserve the island’s “green” image, which generates a lot of favorable publicity, attracts tourism and has apparently also induced a few mainlanders to take up permanent residence on the island.

          The solar array indeed appears to have a “white sky” orientation. I estimate it would have an annual load factor of around 9%. See


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Part of the cost of this system is the 100% backup. And we have the exact same issue here on the mainland operating two parallel power systems, intermittent renewables and 100% backup. The load factor for the whole system is reduced as a result. Its incredibly inefficient.

      • We need a huge amount of storage obviously – we would need to have 10 times more pumped storage in the UK (4 -> 40 GWh) to even match the relative storage capacity on Eigg (212 kWh for 333kW of capacity). Event that is for what you say is a 4% overall capacity factor.

        It sounds very, very difficult when you put it like that, but what is the alternative?

        An economy driven by a renewable energy fleet with a low capacity factor sounds a hell of a lot more sustainable than one driven by coal, fracking and environmental destruction.

        • Earlier this year I wrote a post entitled How much wind power can the UK grid handle? (I didn’t consider solar because there isn’t enough of it to make any difference). My conclusion was that the UK could add as much wind capacity as it liked provided it kept enough dispatchable backup generation to fill demand when the wind wasn’t blowing.

          The problem was that grid operation became progressively more inefficient and uneconomic as more wind capacity was added. At the point where wind was providing 50% of total UK generation I estimated that between a half and three quarters of the wind power generated would get wasted because there would be nowhere to send it and that the grid would be operating at an overall load factor of 9% (Tables 3 and 4).

          Eigg is an example of this effect in action at the small-scale, although in this case it’s exacerbated by overdesign.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          If you read around the articles I have written, you will find that nuclear power is a favoured option. If you Google “2050 Pathway” the Energy Matters 2050 pathway is there on the first page immediately below the DECC stuff.

    • roberto says:

      “If you were wanting to replicate this type of a system ‘at scale’ – perhaps 100,000 people instead of 100 – you would of course use the most fiscally efficient hardware (and software I might add), and would likely end up with a LCoE an order of magnitude smaller.”

      That’s beind done already, even at a scale much larger than the one you’d wish… several million Danes get a very large fraction of their electricity from wind…. and as a matter of fact Denmark has the most expensive electricity of all EU29 countries… tough coincidence, don’t you think?… in addition Denmark’s electricity sector generates of the order of 6 times the CO2/kWh of France… another strange coincidence, uh?

      As John McCarthy said… “he/she who refuses to do the math is doomed to talk nonsense”… a priceless quote.


  6. Glen Mcmillian says:

    Back when grid juice first made it into my community eighty or so years ago the local people were extremely reluctant to use more than an absolute minimum of electricity due mostly to the fact that paying the bill in this backwoods depressed area during the Great Depression was a great hardship.

    It is likely the handful of people on this island are still in possessed of similar habits and most likely do not have much in the line of electrical appliances unless of course they happen to be well off. My guess is that either they are life long residents and possess very little money or else newcomers with plenty of money and hardly anybody in between. The newcomers if any probably have their own generators and burn as much diesel as they please without saying anything to anybody or asking permission of any body.

    Rich people have a way of building retreat properties in such places so as to enjoy the scenery and privacy. Of course there may be no rich people on this island.

    If the systems put into place are capable of on average fifteen percent capacity then it is likely that after a while the local people will change their habits to take advantage of all the electrical energy available.

    The hydro systems can probably do close to one hundred percent during a period of very heavy rain but the watersheds seem to be extremely small and they may not be able to do even fifteen percent on an annual basis of course.

    This would still be outrageously expensive on a per kilowatt hour basis of course but not nearly so bad as the picture painted.

    As others have pointed out such small scale systems are hardly indicative of the real potential of renewable power but the politics involved usually result in such installations being the ones that actually get built.

    I am no expert but I will hazard a guess that a large scale installation in a place well suited to renewables such as the state of Texas here in the US can operate at a capacity factor of thirty percent or better with the part of the energy coming from solar matching peak demand rather well.

    The obvious answer for now in the UK or maybe what used to be the UK in a few more hours would be some new nukes but reality is reality. People are no more rational about nukes than they are in spending megabucks on such expensive systems as the one this article is about.

    New nukes are not politically feasible at this time and may not be feasible for another five or ten years. By then the realities of ever more expensive fossil fuels and the possibility of interrupted deliveries will have had time to sink in to the public mind.

    BUT IF THERE IS ANOTHER FUKUSHIMA- especially if it results in the loss of a lot of lives- forget about getting any new nukes permitted in Scotland or England.

    As expensive as it is renewable power doesn’t require foreign exchange funds to pay for imported fuel and can reduce the consumption of such fuel to a substantial extent.WInd farms on the blue water nearshore are probably going to be a lot cheaper than a blue water navy and marine divisions as time passes.

    I think most people will be able to cope with intermittent renewable energy more easily than might be expected so long as some base load is always available. Smart grids are the future and as old appliances such as refrigerators and water heaters are replaced with new ones they can be easily made to run mostly on wind and solar power when the output is good. Likewise there is no reason a few tons of stone cannot be put under the floor of a new house and heating cables installed in the stone. This would provide a substantial stored heat capacity that could keep a well insulated new house comfortable for a couple of days of low wind.

    Even a fairly small domestic battery storage system would be enough to shave peak loads substantially and run an LED lighting system efficiency in a residence. The battery could be kept charged most of the time with wind power.

    There are plenty of ways to cope with intermittent power supplies without sitting freezing in the dark without a hot cup of coffee or tea.

    We will adapt because we have no choice in this matter.

    • roberto says:

      “WInd farms on the blue water nearshore are probably going to be a lot cheaper than a blue water navy and marine divisions as time passes.”

      Yeah!… that’s the plan of the greens… unfortunately it seems that things are going a bit differently… see the interesting link to the BAIRD 1 project fiasco in Germany, linked a few days ago here…

      Intermittent sources of energy will never be able to take the place of baseload generators, there’s simply not enough space for dams or wind turbines and/or solar panels to do it… Mother Nature has chosen differently… renewables like PV and wind are a great way to pull out of energy poverty the third world countries, but unless we are willing and ready to transform non-third world country back into that state… there’s simply no way to do the job… it is already amply clear and evident now, everywhere wind and PV have a large penetration a larger fraction of their output is lost.

      I am not ready to go back full blast to Medieval Ages Redux… no, thanks!


  7. One of the things I learned in putting this post together was that it you want to go big into renewables in Scotland then solar is an important part of the mix. Installing solar in a cloud-blanketed country centered on latitude 57 north may sound like a dumb thing to do, but the Eigg example shows that renewable energy systems in Scotland are most vulnerable to outages during prolonged spells of fine, dry, windless summer weather, which occasionally do occur, and during these spells solar is the only part of the generation mix that delivers. And it delivers very well. Because of the long days direct solar radiation in Scotland in midsummer is in fact about 30% higher than it is on the Equator.

  8. Ed says:

    You wrote “I work out that we just gifted £33,297 worth of energy to every household on Eigg.”

    Lets put this into perspective. Britain spent £35 Billion on defence in 2012. There are 22 Million households in the UK. That makes spending on defence per household of £1,590 per year. Over 25 years, this would be almost £40,000 per household to spend on renewable infrastructure every 25 years.

    Conclusion: The UK could afford to go the way of Eigg if it wanted to. It’s all about priorities.


    • What’s lacking isn’t money and priorities, it’s a renewables plan that works.

      • Ed says:

        Hi Roger. You raise 3 interesting points.

        Firstly, money. For me “money” means “energy” and most of our energy is derived from FF. Hence we are only able to afford defence or renewable energy spending because we have plenty of FF at the moment. As FF declines in the future, we will be able to afford them less. Again it’s all about priorities.

        Secondly, priorities. We are told by MSM all the time that FF will last for centuries. Therefore spending on renewable energy is a low priority for most people.

        Thirdly, feasibility. We have no alternative but to try. We either succeed to extend the oil age for a bit longer by building our renewable energy infrastructure or we don’t. Leave it to too long and we will no longer be able to afford to ever try.

        • Ed: What I was getting at is that no system that includes a high proportion of renewables generation will deliver power on demand until the problem of how to convert large amounts of intermittent renewable energy into dispatchable power – i.e. the storage problem – is solved, and I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

          The Eigg system works because of strict demand management, with power being automatically cut off whenever a household exceeds 5 kW demand. The islanders accept this partly because they had become accustomed to living with minimum electricity before the system was installed and partly because they are very proud of their system and want to make it work.

          But an Eigg-type system on the UK mainland would have to work in a similar fashion, and I doubt the mainland public would be anything like as happy with it as the Eigg islanders are.

          • Ed says:

            The general public will have no choice. When FF are gone, they’re gone. I overwinter in a camper van away from mains electricity for 3 months of the year. 5kW of power on tap is luxury !

            If you are correct about mass energy storage then you just have to use energy when nature gives it to you. We currently consume 200 kWh per day per person in the UK. In 50 years time we may only have a small fraction of this available. Tough.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Ed an interesting perspective. I posit that the £35 billion spent on defence exists because of the energy (and financial) surplus from FF and nuclear power. Without that energy infrastructure the £35 billion would not exist to spend on renewables. In other words, new renewables only exist because of FF and nuclear.

      • “In other words, new renewables only exist because of FF and nuclear.”

        This is the heart of our entire civilisation’s predicament, but it is always posited in a form like this – i.e. that renewables are just a silly nonsense because they could not exist without the input of energy from fossil fuels / nuclear.

        The form you should rearrange it to is:

        “We have all this fossil fuel energy at our disposal – we need to use it NOW to build renewables, before it is too late”

        Euan – nuclear is subject to equivalent supply constraints and uncertainty as fossil fuels, and also presents different but also serious environmental problems. Why even bother ramping it up, when ultimately it would have to be replaced with renewables anyway?

        The economics of nuclear – as pointed out by Ed re. the decommissioning costs – do not make it any more favourable than renewables. This especially because it poses the inverse supply/demand matching problem to renewables – except rather than being a source that we can’t ‘switch on’, it’s one that we can’t switch off (rapidly).

        There is no way to replace the energy system we have now, and still run everything we want to run, whenever we want to run it. That world is gone. The world we should be adapting to is one powered by renewables, and all the other ‘options’ are just ways to try and prolong our current energy system.

        No matter which pathway you choose on the DECC 2050 web tool (my god – has there even been anything more emblematic of craven procrastination at such a high and detailed level than that tool?) the outcome will be the same – an extension of our idiotic 20th century way of life, at the expense of both people and the natural world.

        • DirkH says:

          Matthew Parsons (@lowlandjuju) says:
          September 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm
          “We have all this fossil fuel energy at our disposal – we need to use it NOW to build renewables, before it is too late”

          That is not necessary. As a solar cell factory can easily be run by solar cells, windmills or man-sized hamster wheels, all you need are man-sized hamster wheels to kickstart Glorious Utopia.

          Add battery factory, inverter factory, wire factory etc. as needed into the picture.

          IF this simplified approach CAN’T WORK, then you MIGHT have a problem.

  9. Ed says:

    Totally agree Euan. Renewable energy is a FF extender. i.e. if the ER/EI of a particular renewable energy infrastructure is 3 then you get back 3 times the FF energy that was needed to built it. The renewable energy infrastructure is totally dependant on the FF energy being available. This may change in the future but I can’t see how this will happen.

    Where we would, and have disagreed in the past, is that I regard nuclear in the same bracket if you include the decommissioning costs.


    • roberto says:

      @Ed/Matthew Parson

      “Where we would, and have disagreed in the past, is that I regard nuclear in the same bracket if you include the decommissioning costs.”

      … and…

      “The economics of nuclear – as pointed out by Ed re. the decommissioning costs – do not make it any more favourable than renewables.”

      Decommissioning costs of nuclear reactors like PWRs and BWRs are virtually ZERO, i.e. few tenths of c$/kWh generated. Unfortunately for you guys in the UK, you’ll have to pay for the WAAAY more expensive decommissioning of the graphite-moderated reactors, but even in that case the costs are not prohibitive… certainly a lot less than the useless 12 BILLION Euros/year paid by the Germans for 20 years in order to produce basically nothing!…

      There’s nothing in a reactor 10 years or so after its stop that calls for huge decommissioning costs… nothing!… the reinforced concrete of the nuclear buildings can be disposed of like any other non-nuclear building’s waste, it is absolutely non radioactive… even the steel of the steam generators can be recycled like any other steel and converted into goods of different kind… the high cost of decommissioning is a myth, a urban legend and nothing else.
      It simply does not stand an educated scrutiny of its procedures and costs thereof.

      I often read in the greenwash, anti-nuclear propaganda things like “look at the French decommissioning costs!… a mind-boggling 60 BILLION EUROS!”…. wow!… no sh.t!… sixty billion EUROS!… France will go bankrupt, right?… fact is if they just bothered to do some math… not rocket science!, simple high_school math… 410 TWh/year (nuclear French production in 2013) times 40 years lifetime of the reactors (could be 50 or more easy) makes 16400 BILLION kWh total generation… divide 60 by 16400 and what do you get?… 0.36 cEuro/kWh… big deal uh!

      I rest my case, your honor.


  10. Holy…

    If their capacity factor is only 3.7%, that means they just paid something like $230 per watt of generated electricity. That’s absurdly expensive, even for renewables.

  11. Mike says:

    In an earlier response to the matter of Scotland’s oil reserves, I revealed that I enjoy the benefits of income from FIT payments from the PV solar panels fitted on to my roof here in sunny(ish) southeern England, south facing, unobstructed by trees etc. Initial investment for 16 panels – c£14,000, and pay off in less than eight years. Obviously, I am therefore very much in favour of the continued FIT payments for generating renewable energy. But I am uncomfortably aware that these subsidies are a diversion of tax revenue to a middle class, comfortably off pensioner in onbe of the more prosperous parts of the, er, UK (writing this while folk up north are still voting), while there afre surely communities where that revenue could be more justly given. I can suppress my guilt by the consolation that perhaps I am helping reduce carbon emissions and doing something positive for the environment. And I get the same feeling about this development of sustainable energy on Eigg. Now my understanding of Scotland’s economic geography is that the west lowlands, the old coalfields and clydeside shipbuilding and heavy engineering areas have been for decades now in decline or stagnation, and arte correspondingly the main areas of poverty and social deprivation; the east of Scotland – banking and finance in Edinburgh, oil oriented industries in Aberdeen and Dundee etc have relatively romped ahead and have the highest per capita incomes in Scotland. This I believe to be the case. My question is whether it is just for revenue to be diverted to remote but possibly relatively prosperous communities when I should more reasonably be devoted to the alleviation of serious depprivation in the Glasgow-Motherwell-Hamilton etc areas.. Are small western islands such as Eigg seriously areas of social deprivation? Or are they inhabited increasingly by quite prosperous middle class (often English) folk pursuing the life of a rural idyll and benefitting like me from this benevolent dispersal of subsidies at the expense of the more deprived?

  12. Roberto says:

    Hello everybody,

    A better example of unsustainability would be given by the bigger island of El Hierro


    .. they ‘just’ need a dormant volcano’s caldera to store excess wind energy…


    • Roberto:

      An interesting project. Eigg times 33. Here’s how the link describes it:

      The smallest and most southerly of the Canary Islands, El Hierro, off the west coast of Africa, is aiming to become the first island in the world to become energy self-sufficient.

      Between 70% and 80% of the island’s electricity demand will be met when a new hybrid hydro-wind generation system comes into force in the summer of 2013. Five windmills, with a combined installed capacity of 11.5 megawatts, will supply electricity to three desalination plants and the island’s population of close to 12,000 residents. Meanwhile, surplus power will be used to pump water more than 700 metres up into the crater of a sealed-off, long-extinct volcano.

      When the wind stops blowing or electricity demand is high, water from the 500,000 cubic metre reservoir will be released into turbines to create up to 11.3 megawatts of hydro-electric power. The water will then be collected in an artificial lower reservoir before being pumped up again to the higher basin.

      It would be interesting to know how long the turbines can deliver 11.3 MW for, but this quote may give us a clue:

      An existing oil power station will be maintained in case it is needed.

      The project cost 82 million euros, which works out to 7,130 euros/kW, about the same as Eigg.

  13. roberto says:

    Travelling back in time, 9 years ago… illuminating analysis on Scotland’s energy future:



  14. Dave Rutledge says:

    Hi Roger,

    A very important post.

    “For some weeks the islanders were back to boiling kettles with gas, but they took it all in stride.”

    What does this mean? Do people burn natural gas directly for heat? Or other fuels?


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Dave, good morning from the still United Kingdom.

      It is quite common in outlying districts for households to have bottled gas (propane) and some may also have solid fuel based stoves.

      • Hi Euan,

        Thank you. It sounds like the propane is effectively a second fossil-fuel backup in addition to the diesel generators.

        “Dave, good morning from the still United Kingdom.”

        If you have to be attached to a big country, you could do worse than the English.


    • A C Osborn says:

      Dave, historically in the UK about 35% of ovens are Gas fired and a few are solid fuel.
      Cooker hobs are higher at 55% gas.
      This of course is now natural gas, but used to be Coal gas. Properties with no mains gas would use bottled or tanked Propane.
      Gas Central Heating is used by about 83% of households in the UK.

      • Hi AC,

        Thank you for the numbers. My family did the the Coast-to-Coast walk in 2012 and we saw many houses in Cumbria and North Yorkshire that used fuel oil for heating. I didn’t realize that gas and propane use was so high in the rest of the UK.


  15. Bernard Durand says:

    Roger, as usual, only the electricity balance is presented in this story. What about heating, transportation ( I guess they do not swim to go on the mainland especially when they are ill, and they don’t use electric boats and trucks either) in this small community. I also suspect that they don’t build themselves all the devices they use. What do they eat? fish, wild berries and goat milk or imported supermarket products? Bernard

  16. This really very interesting. To see a analysis of a small population like this really handy. One thing that jumps out is there choice of 4 smaller turbines over one larger one. . . not a very efficient choice. That is some battery bank!

    The post left be wondering about what we are going to do about meeting our fairly predictable demand for electricity with the unpredictable nature of renewables. Tidal power would see a good option, but that seems to be in planning / EIA dead lock at present!

    • Tidal power is intermittent too:

      Day 1: spring tides = lots of power
      Day 14: neap tides = little or no power
      Day 28: spring tides = lots of power
      Day 42: neap tides = little or no power

      and so on and so forth

      Matching these fluctuations to demand poses an even large storage problem than matching wind surges to demand, although not as bad as solar.

  17. peter2108 says:

    This link http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/08/22/catch-22-of-energy-storage/ is very interesting. Yoiu can overcome intermittency by energy storage but doing so will take so much energy that not enough will be left to power our advanced civilisation. The Eigg setuip of course does not sustain an advanced civilisation – they vist the ,mainland for that!

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