As the Orkney Islands position themselves as a pivotal hub in Scotland’s renewable energy landscape – leveraging centuries of innovation and strategic natural assets – the focus now shifts to infrastructural advancements and collaborations to harness the region’s full potential, writes Paul Olvhoj, Business Development Manager at Orkney Harbours

The Herald:

The Orkney Islands are well known for punching beyond their size in the marine renewables sector, for the island archipelago has 5,000 years of history and innovation behind it. 

Part of the success is the strategic location between the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean at a crossroads of international shipping highways. 

The other is the natural assets that have served Orkney so well – the largest natural harbour in the Northern Hemisphere at Scapa Flow, some of the fastest tidal streams in the world and a lot of wind, ideal for positioning Orkney as a hub for the future huge projects planned in and around the Orkney marine environment.

As the largest and busiest local authority owned port in Scotland, Orkney Harbours has a pivotal role in ensuring the development of its infrastructure to meet the needs of these projects as well as provide a platform for a decarbonized future. 

The current work portfolio sees Scapa Flow a base for a range of Ship to Ship transfers of oil and gas products, a safe anchorage for platforms as well as the Flotta Oil Terminal. 

Last year saw the launch of Orkney Future Ports which will bring together a range of marine projects under one name that will transform the infrastructure and services that works in the marine environment.  

It is about having a vision for the future, a vision that benefits the Orcadian community, the nation and industry to ensure that we are well set on the path towards a net zero future. We developed a

Masterplan that covers the main infrastructure improvements at our piers as well as a brand new quay that will unlock the national asset that is Scapa Flow.

Port developments represent essential infrastructure for the successful commencement of large offshore wind projects, developments that generally takes in the region of five or more years from concept to delivery, hence the urgent need to secure the investment stacks as early as possible, and why the major port expansion we have progressed over the last 3 years with the Scapa project, is at such a forward stage

The Herald:

We have engaged the support of Crown Estate Scotland on the land purchase and investment in SDWQ, whilst also critically seeking investment support from both governments via the FLOWMIS investment scheme or Strategic Investment Model. 

Whilst we have been unsuccessful in the former, we are pleased to be positioned as one of the Priority grouping projects, that is those that have received the highest levels of interest from a wide range of SIM Group developers and we look forward to meeting with key stakeholders to discuss collaborative model principles, building on the discussions already held.

We understand that locations that are currently involved in offshore wind are receiving extremely high levels of interest for manufacturing which can reduce their capacity/availability for marshalling, hence the need for a holistic approach to marshalling capabilities in Northern Scotland; and we note that Highlands and Islands Enterprise are acutely aware of the shortage of ports in the region and recognize the potential of SDWQ.  

OIC/OHA, in addition to progressing projects to a stage where any decisions can be made in knowledge of the timelines, are progressing with the preparatory studies required to ensure the provision floating marshalling/wet storage in Scapa Flow, which will be very complimentary to any deep water development. 

It is this conundrum – often vocalised as a chicken and egg decision – that puts pressure on ports who are being asked to invest in infrastructure of scale and high cost that isn’t guaranteed to supply all the answers for the sector that is providing the biggest opportunity to the marine environment ever seen. 

It is the tangible certainties that are missing and ports – the cornerstones that allow local content opportunities to be built upon – and so ports are all pushing each other for the investment funds that are available, whilst the clock continues to tick. 

Ports are working together and sharing ideas around how to solve problems, a good example being the definition of how wet storage of offshore wind structures can be defined, consented and managed. 

Orkney Future Ports is about so much more than the infrastructure expansions. 

We have to consider the piers for a future ferry replacement fleet at our Isles, expansion of marine tourism marinas and redevelopment of waterfront spaces, improving our cruise reception facilities to ensure a managed sustainable growth in our very successful cruise sector which sees Orkney as one of the busiest cruise ports in the UK. 

Beyond OFP the high-voltage subsea power cable to carry renewable energy from Orkney to the mainland of Scotland is progressing as well as the three new onshore wind farms which were granted consent.

For a small group of islands it’s a big challenge to net zero and transition from oil and gas as quick as we would all like but there is a reason to be optimistic about the prospects. 

There are significant opportunities for all our ports and regions to benefit from this transition and we are confident that we are making sure that all are in some way included in our plans to make Orkney and the wider Highlands and Islands region a marine hub for renewable energy.