ReFLEX Orkney

ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) Orkney is a £28.5 million smart grid demonstration project focused on linking demand with supply (renewable generation) in Orkney, Scotland. The project brings together an expert consortium of Orkney-based partners — The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Solo Energy, Aquatera, Community Energy Scotland, Heriot-Watt University and Orkney Islands Council, as well as multinational energy company Doosan Babcock — to create a ‘smart energy island’ which will demonstrate the energy system of the future. The project is being funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as well as private sector partners. The project’s goal is to maximize the use of locally generated green energy, reducing, and eventually eliminating, the need for fossil fuels in Orkney. Upon demonstrating the success of the ReFLEX Orkney project, it is envisaged that the project will be replicated regionally, nationally and internationally. Renewable energy sources such as  wind, solar, wave, and tidal have much lower impacts on the environment than their fossil fuel counterparts and represent promising solutions for solving the global climate crisis while supporting people’s energy needs. However, while renewable energy generation technology has grown significantly over the last few decades the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources means countries still have to rely on other energy resources i.e. nuclear power and fossil fuels. Up until now, energy storage and grid management solutions have been insufficient in tackling the issue of intermittency. 

The Problem

Orkney is a prime example of this challenge. Orkney generates more than 100 % of its annual electricity demand from renewable resources but there are still times when it needs to import electricity from the Scottish mainland (e.g. when the wind isn’t blowing). In order to fully decarbonise Orkney, the issue of intermittency must be addressed.

The Solution

ReFLEX Orkney solves the intermittency issue with renewable generation through deploying digitally linked solutions such as battery systems and electric vehicles to store renewable energy. The innovative IES being implemented as part of the project will then store and utilise energy according to demand, interlinking electricity, heat and transport systems. This increased storage capacity will reduce curtailment and maximise the utilisation of local renewable generation during peak generation times i.e. high winds, and will help keep energy costs affordable for consumers. Through this process, ReFLEX Orkney can serve as a model for how to deliver full renewable energy autonomy while at the same time delivering affordable consumer energy bills.

How it Works

Led by EMEC, the three-year project is developing an Integrated Energy System (IES) that will digitally link distributed and intermittent renewable generation to flexible demand across three sectors —electricity, transport, and heat networks — into one comprehensive and controllable system. The IES will monitor energy generation, grid constraints and energy demand and then use smart technologies, including energy storage, to manage and improve the supply-demand balance. During periods of high renewable generation (i.e. during particularly windy periods), generators are often shut down in Orkney because the electrical grid is at capacity.  This is known as ‘curtailment’ and is frequently experienced by local wind turbine generators. This means that the ability to harness clean energy is lost as well as the economic benefits for local generators. Additionally, the heating and transport sectors on Orkney are still largely run on fossil fuels. This is, in part, due to old housing stock and the transportation links with the mainland i.e. ferries and planes. These sectors are significant because, even though Orkney’s electricity is largely generated by renewables, renewable sources only account for 1/6th of total energy demand in Orkney. In order for Orkney to fully decarbonise, it is imperative that these sectors transition to zero carbon or low carbon fuels. To address these issues, the project aims to deploy a wide range of technologies, including domestic batteries, larger batteries for businesses and public buildings, smart charging connections, electric vehicles, an island community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system, hydrogen production and a combined heat and power system, and potentially smart heating systems.


  • To establish an Orkney energy services company which will deliver affordable energy and solutions tailored to customers’ energy needs;
  • To fully decarbonize Orkney by 2030, eliminating the need for fossil fuels, and have a fully sustainable and flexible energy system; and
  • Replicate the ReFLEX model elsewhere in the UK and beyond, implementing the technology in other communities to assist in the transition to renewable energy.

Impact to Date

The project was launched in April 2019 and is currently in its feasibility study stage.


  • There are general challenges involved in developing new technologies, proving their performance in different environments and ensuring they will be reliable and commercially viable in the future;
  • Grid issues: the Orkney grid has been subject to a moratorium on new generation being added to it since 2012 – battery technology is classed as new generation, so consent from the Distribution Network Operator in Orkney is required;
  • Regulatory issues: new technologies have to operate under a more dated regulatory framework that does not yet reflect the opportunities presented by renewable and storage technologies;
  • Buy in from the local population (as potential customers) is required in order to make the project feasible; and
  • Financing over the long term: this type of project requires investment by both government (in the shorter term) and the private sector (over the longer term).

Next Steps

Over the next 2.5 years (project launched in April 2019), the team has laid out a number of targets, including:

  • Domestic batteries – up to 1,000 proposed;
  • Business and large-scale batteries – up to 100 proposed;
  • Electrical vehicles (EVs), and other transport/mobility solutions – around 600 in total proposed together with smart chargers;
  • An island community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system;
  • Flexible heating systems – up to 100 proposed;
  • A hydrogen fuelled, commercial scale, combined heat and power system;
  • Reduce carbon emissions across the electricity, transport and heat sectors in Orkney;
  • Reduce the levels of electricity grid curtailment by putting some of that energy, which would otherwise be lost, into batteries;
  • Increase the level of non-carbon energy sources (e.g. wind, tidal & hydrogen); and
  • Increase more skilled labour jobs in the renewable energy space.

For More Information

You can keep up to date with the ReFLEX project by reading the latest newsletter here, where you can also subscribe to the project email list for the latest developments.

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This information was based on an interview conducted with Stuart Bevan and John Thouless from Aquatera Limited who are headquartered in Stromness, Orkney but have offices around the world.  

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