To mark the 15th anniversary of his collaboration with the IET, our columnist takes readers away from the ongoing war, to a small but technologically unique Scottish island.
In an article about Ukraine that I contributed to a national political monthly shortly after the Russian invasion, I speculated that after a while British media coverage of the war was likely to dwindle. Audiences would grow accustomed to war and begin to see it as an unfortunate but distant reality, having little to do with itself.
Two months later, I must admit that I was right and wrong: media coverage of the war has indeed diminished, but public support for my enduring, yet courageous and proud motherland remains strong and unanimous.
Life goes on and human nature is such that it cannot focus only on wars and conflicts. To function properly, we need regular inflows of positivity and hope. Having devoted my last four columns to the war, I have chosen a different subject this time – my own 15th anniversary of IET membership.
It may seem insignificant compared to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee or the 150th anniversary of the IET itself last year, but for me on 23 May 2007 when I started my job as Editor-in-Chief from E&T, marked a substantial change in my life, which eventually led me to leave London and move to Hertfordshire, closer to my new place of work. I spent over 13 years as an IET staff member until my retirement in 2020 – the longest period of full-time employment of my life.
Those 13 years, along with many positive accomplishments and events, included months of the most serious illness when I had to spend many weeks in hospitals after emergency open-heart surgery. It was then that I felt a lot of support, warmth and care, not only from my E&T colleagues, but from the whole organization, including HR, senior management and the CEO. I won’t forget that as long as I live.
Another life-changing influence from the EIT was my increased fascination with engineering and technology, which I tried to share with my readers, both inside and outside the industry. ‘EIT. The unlikely culmination of this interest is my “Atlas of Geographical Curiosities”, which will be released in October 2022 in five different languages simultaneously (to be found on Amazon). Many entries in this book are inspired by engineering and technology – and therefore by EIT. I’ve already introduced some of them to E&T readers in my “Pre-War” columns (not sure they’ll all end up in the “Atlas”).
Today I want to introduce you to another techno-curiosity: the small Scottish island of Eigg, which is officially the first community in the world to have achieved total self-sufficiency in renewable energy. I visited it briefly while researching the Atlas several years ago.
Eigg – a kidney-shaped island (measuring five by three miles) 10 miles from the mainland, is one of the small islands of the Inner Hebrides. With an area of 12 square miles (31 km2listen)) and a population of around 100, it is the second largest of the small islands, after Rùm.
For years Eigg has been known for its ‘singing sands’, a particular sound of the wind in the dunes. It has been compared by one explorer to an Aeolian harp, and a noise made by a walking man in corduroy pants by another.
Historically, the island was owned by a series of owners – sometimes too eccentric and withdrawn to bother visiting, and formalities made development of public ownership nearly impossible.
Eventually the residents launched a fundraising campaign for community buyout, with support from the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and in 1997 the property was transferred to the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, which manages the island on behalf of the community.
One of the first consequences was the creation of Eigg Electric, a company wholly owned and operated by the residents of the island through the Trust. Ten years later, Eigg has reached a global milestone in sustainable development: complete electrical self-sufficiency, based on renewable energies. Having previously relied on diesel generators for a few hours of electricity a day, in 2008 it became the first community in the world to launch an off-grid system based solely on renewable sources, wind, water and sun. This, for the first time, gave residents 24-hour access to electricity. foreigners, the energy supply remained sufficient to meet everyone’s needs.
An 11 km network of underground cables distributes power to households and businesses around the island, with transformers converting high voltage to domestic voltage. The network is also connected to a battery bank, capable of supplying electricity to the whole island for 24 hours.
Energy can flow in both directions: if renewable energies produce more than what is consumed on the island, the network recharges the batteries. The batteries eventually become fully charged and accept no more power, at which point a series of switches activate the heaters in the communal churches, community hall, public restrooms and pier lobby.
The islanders are not charged for consumption, since the whole community benefits from the extra energy, accumulated in winter due to the abundance of wind and rain. When the power is insufficient, the energy stored in the batteries is used to power the microgrid.
This model of public ownership and accountability set an example abroad and attracted researchers from all over the world to Eigg, including, at one time, yours truly.
The good news is that I now hope to return to Eigg shortly as I have been invited to join an expedition to the remote Scottish islands (Inner and Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney, etc.) aboard MS Greg Mortimer. Time and route permitting, we will also visit Eigg and I will be able to see for myself how the island’s unique technology initiative is progressing.
I’ll of course tell readers about other innovative tech on the islands we’ll be visiting and the ship itself (built in the USA in 2019, it must be stuffed full of cutting-edge gadgets and technology).
As for the war, it will soon be over, I am sure. Wars come and go, but peaceful technologies stay with us for good – that’s another simple saying I’ve learned in my 15 years at the IET.
Sign up for the E&T News email to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.