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Isle of Eigg a model of energy self-sufficiency

On the scenic island off Scotland, all electricity is made locally.

John Booth, beside one of the island's photovoltaic panels, led the push for self-sufficiency.

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On the Isle of Eigg, the arrival of the ferry always elicits a flurry of activity. Islanders crowd the pier to greet friends and family or collect letters and parcels from the mainland, some 10 miles away.

At the cozy tearoom by the jetty, kettles boil water for hot drinks and bacon sizzles on the grill.

In the old days, dealing with the sudden rush of customers required careful calculation. A limited power supply produced by the tearoom's diesel generator meant the oven couldn't be switched on at the same time as the dishwasher. The small freezer was switched off at night.

But on Feb. 1, all of Eigg, a spectacularly scenic island off the west coast of Scotland, switched on its own continuous, clean, and renewable energy supply.

Before, electric service was spotty. Residents mostly relied on noisy, expensive diesel generators or mini-hydroelectric generators. Now, the islanders, who number just over 80, enjoy luxuries of modern living that mainlanders take for granted.

"I can use the deep fry and the dishwasher at the same time – it's great!" says Stuart Fergusson, who works at the tearoom. "Before, when the power used to go, I'd have to rush up the hill to the fuse box and jiggle about with it with a half-cooked grilled sandwich on the [grill]. Things are so much better now – we might even buy another freezer!"

The island makes its electricity through a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, and a hydroelectric generator, all scattered strategically across the island and linked in a single grid. Storage batteries provide a backup. Two diesel generators stand ready to provide emergency power.


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