Guest Blog by Eddie Hyams, Chairman, Energy Saving Trust
Beyond this beautiful beach it is some three thousand miles to the East Coast of North America, yet the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides is at the forefront of Low Carbon development in the UK.
I spent an intensive 24 hours on Lewis thanks to Brian Wilson. Brian and his family live on Lewis and even though it is several years since he stepped back from front line politics when he was Energy Minister, he is as energetic as ever, encouraging low carbon innovation and development – as well as playing a pivotal role in revitalising the Harris Tweed industry.
My busy day started with a visit to Lewis Castle College and its low carbon research centre, Greenspace (www.greenspaceresearch.com). The centre was buzzing with ideas and renewables equipment. The importance of potential marine energy to the Highlands was highlighted by work on a new wave-testing installation which was under construction alongside existing small wind and PV test rigs. Among the many interesting development projects I was particularly interested in the software modelling tools for building efficiency including Energy Performance Certificates (EPC’s). Clearly some highly innovative work is in hand in this remote centre of excellence.
The Western Isle faces some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK as a result of economic circumstances and the state of the local housing stock with its crafting history. So it was a fortuitous coincidence that my visit coincided with the announcement of the Scottish Governments Home insulation Scheme ‘’HIS’’ which will be managed by the Energy Saving Trust. This is an ambitious partnership project with over 8500 homes to be insulated in Lewis in this first year of a rolling programme across Scotland. This is a challenging target especially as there is a procurement process to complete by which time less than 6 months will remain to achieve the full year target.
My wide ranging discussions with the Western Isles Council, the Highlands and island Development Agency and with the local insulation delivery partners highlighted the scale of the challenge though it is one which everyone is highly motivated to meet. As ever, in these important projects, working with partnership and motivating the citizen are vital ingredients and these are very much part of our DNA throughout the Energy Saving Trust.
The HIS scheme is grant based, and while that may well remain an important feature of schemes focussed on the fuel poverty sector the discussions reinforced for me the need for yet more ambitious energy reduction targets in the domestic sector. The Energy Saving Trust is already engaging with more and more local authorities and large and small delivery business as well as the energy retail companies to achieve this. The Energy Saving Trust- Scotland model, combining many aspects of advice and delivery into one single citizen centred organisation is very promising and this is something we will be highlighting in the coming months.
Out and about again after these meetings, saw a visit to a modern waste to energy plant using an Aerobic digester. I was struck by the fact that innovation can happen with the right encouragement in all parts of the British Isles.
The end of the day saw the chance to reflect while being privileged to participate in a relaxed family meal on the West coast of Lewis.
Reflecting on all I heard on the ground, I am convinced we can and must find ways of achieving ambitious targets without the need for more and more public money. In the longer term we should be aiming to eliminate the need for calls on public funding as we roll out partnership programmes. This may sound ambitious, given our history in the UK, but it is possible and we and others are working up robust ideas how to achieve this.
I was impressed also, by the fact that Lewis draws back experienced and high profile individuals from all over the UK and beyond to enjoy its relaxed atmosphere and scenery. Perhaps that is one secret of nurturing innovation.