The isle of Eigg is located off the northwest coast of Scotland in the Hebrides archipelago. Eigg is not tied to the national grid, and for many years, diesel generators supplied the few hours of electricity available to residents each day. In February 2008, the community switched on a local, renewable-powered electricity grid, and today solar panels, wind turbines, and hydro generators have largely replaced their diesel generators.
Eigg Island already gets over 85% of its energy from renewable sources, and the 100-person strong community will soon achieve self-sufficiency.
Eigg’s power systems
- One 100 kW hydro generator
- Two 5–6 kW hydro generators
- Four small wind turbines: 24 kW output
- Solar panels: 30 kW
- Total generating capacity = 164 kW
Electricity on Eigg is rationed – private residents are allowed to use up to 5 kilowatts at a time, and businesses are allowed 10 kilowatts. How much is 5 kilowatts? As they write on their site Island(s) Going Green: Enough for an electric kettle and washing machine, or fifty 100w light bulbs. Residents use energy monitors to manage their electricity needs, a practice proven to help reduce energy needs.
The local power company is Eigg Electric Ltd., a community-owned organization that maintains the renewable systems, 11 km (7 miles) of buried electric cable, transformers, inverters, and battery backup. Two diesel generators provide emergency backup in case the batteries fall below 50%.
Surplus energy goes to the community at large in the form of free heat:
We have heaters in all the public spaces on the island, the two churches, the community centre, the shop and café down at the pier. So we put free heating into these buildings to keep the island’s costs down and to keep the infrastructure of the buildings dry. (Eddie Scott, Eigg Electric maintenance team)
Eddie Scott never previously worked as a technician – like the rest of the team, he learned to maintain the renewable system when it was installed.
The more you learn about this community the more remarkable it appears. Like their electric company, Eigg is itself is owned by the community. A much smaller Eigg community purchased the island in the mid–90s after years of suffering under Keith Schellenberg, the owner of the island and operator of a feudal landlord system. The Guardian described Schellenberg this way:
A onetime bobsleigh champion, he took to crossing the windswept isle in a Rolls-Royce. Unfortunately, he was also Eigg’s owner, a position that gave him a staggering amount of power over its long-term residents. As the feudal laird, he owned everything, and decided everything: jobs, housing, transport, upkeep. Technically, you couldn’t even eat the seaweed without his say-so.
It’s an inspiring story with a happy ending, and the people of Eigg are eager to spread the word of their success. Read more about the egregious feudal laird at The Guardian, and follow the vibrant Eigg community at The Isle of Eigg (a small island with a big reputation), Eiggbox (their new cultural center), and Island(s) Going Green, where they detail life in their community and work to motivate a thousand more green islands like their own.