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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

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Ashden Award winner an inspiration for community energy schemes

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 2 July 2010 at 12:12 pm

Energy use on the Isle of Eigg is half the national average and carbon emissions have fallen by 47% since the islanders switched to renewable energy. The islanders' pioneering approach has won them the 2010 UK Ashden Award, and you can watch the video case study here.

Until Febuary 2008 each household on the island generated their own electricity using noisy and expensive diesel generators. The islanders now have a combination of wind power, solar photovoltaic panels, and hydro power all connected into a grid, with a generator for back up, if needed.

What impressed me about the scheme is the close relationship and understanding that islanders have with their electricity use. Each household has its use capped at 5kW (businesses at 10kW), and is given an Owl electricity meter so they can see what they are using, and to warn them if they are near the cap. If they go over it, they trip the supply, and need to call out an engineer to re-connect them - but it very rarely happens.

Local people have devised a traffic light scheme to warn when renewable energy is low. In high summer, when the water level is low, and wind is light they display red posters around the community, so people are aware of the situation. While there is no need for people to worry as there is generator back up, most people reduce their energy use so the generator is rarely needed. Over 90% of the island's electricity use comes from the renewable sources, and they hope to increase the percentage this year.

In addition to the renewable electricity from the grid, homes on the island have been insulated, heating systems upgraded, and 20% of households have solar hot water panels. 'Green grants' are available to enable residents to reduce their carbon emissions. Since the project started household carbon emissions have fallen from 8.4 to 4.45 tonnes a year.

The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust is a worthy winner of the Ashden Awards, and I hope it inspires many more communities to develop local sources of electricity.

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