On This Rural Scottish Island, Hydropower Is Personal

Carbon-free power is the norm on Eigg.
Jan 31, 2016·
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Scotland has gained worldwide recognition in recent years for increasing its renewable power at a near-record pace.

This video by Makeshift, a project that celebrates do-it-yourself, creative solutions to climate change, shows that Scotland’s clean power transition is also happening on a very small scale.

As he tells it here, John Cormack moved to the remote Scottish isle of Eigg in 1979. At that time, the only option for electricity was to purchase and fuel a diesel generator. Diesel generators are usually how isolated communities like Eigg across the American and Canadian Arctic obtain electricity. “They’re expensive to buy, and they’re expensive to maintain,” says Cormack, the island’s postal carrier.

He opted to go without any electricity for almost 20 years and then installed a micro-hydropower system in 1997. “Small-scale hydro was all new to me, but that’s the way I went, and I’ve never regretted it,” he says. “I think it would be good if we could all come down on our carbon consumption, even if it was just a little bit.”

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In 2008, many other residents on Eigg were able to convert to 100 percent renewable energy too thanks to the establishment of Eigg Electric. Three hydropower stations, as well as a small wind farm and solar power array, provide the island’s first 24-hour continuous electricity supply.

“Villages in Alaska are burdened by some of the highest energy costs in the country,” the U.S. State Department reported in 2015. “Rural Alaska is home to about 140,000 people spread over an area twice the size of Texas. Many of these communities are not road-accessible, which means they are almost solely reliant on diesel fuel either shipped or flown in to them via barges or airplanes.”

The weather and climate conditions of the Arctic—which will remain harsh even in the warming climate—increase the challenges of cleanly generating electricity. But Eigg’s solutions to getting off diesel power suggest that thinking small might be a worthwhile way to go.