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Tuesday, 25/Aug/2009

Islay Distilleries and Renewable Tidal Energy

Islay News in stencil

Earlier this evening Twitter went wild with tweets about Islay to be powered by the tides. The reason? An article in The Guardian titled Islay to be entirely powered by tides and the subtitle ‘Exclusive: ScottishPower is to build turbines in the Sound of Islay that will generate enough electricity for the island's 3,500 inhabitants – and its famous distilleries’. Unfortunately I'm not ready to pour my celebratory dram of Islay single malt just yet:

First of all the ‘Exclusive’. I'm not so sure what's really exclusive about the report. The project as such isn't exactly new, this Scottish Power press release from 29/Sep/2008 pretty much outlines the whole project. If you follow the Islay Energy Trust blog there have been several mentions of parts of the project. Ron has blogged about the Scottish Power tidal power project before and ForArgyll in February 2009 wrote about the Islay Energy Trust partners Scottish Power Renewables in Sound of Islay tidal energy project. I'm fairly sure at least in passing I've also mentioned it on this blog.

The only point that's new is a potential participation of the Islay distilleries, but that paragraph sounds strange to me:

The company is close to signing a supply contract with Diageo, the drinks group, to provide electricity from the project to eight distilleries and maltings on Islay – including the makers of the renowned Laphroaig and Lagavulin whiskies.

May be it's just badly written (or I'm missing some information), but that sounds as if signing a contract with Diageo will sort out all eight distilleries on Islay? And as if Laphroaig belongs to Diageo?

Well, in case you didn't know, Diageo only own two of the eight distilleries (Lagavulin and Caol Ila, but not Laphroaig. They also own the maltings), so what about the other six? I'd be surprised if in particular Bruichladdich would want to be dependent of a contract between Diageo and Scottish Power…

But then again that's not really the issue: The title of the article as well as the original tweets from guardianeco and guardiantech all read:

Islay to be entirely powered by tides.

I doubt that.

At least not in the way the report seems to describe and how all the people who are lapping it up and/or ‘retweet’ believe it to be.

Again I don't have all the facts, but to my knowledge most (if not all) of the distilleries heat their stills etc with oil or diesel powered boilers. I suspect the vast majority of their energy needs are supplied through these boilers, main line electricity I guess will only be a comparably small fraction of their total energy use.

Now you could argue that they will replace the oil or diesel with electricity. Fair enough, but then again I don't see that happen soon. Bruichladdich only installed a new boiler (which reduced their consumption by more than 15% I think) in 2006 if I remember correctly, Bunnahabhain did the same in 2007. I doubt they will be replaced any time soon.

To summarise, while the tidal energy project is certainly an excellent project and a step in the right direction, it almost certainly isn't go to bring us the ‘zero carbon emission/footprint dram’ many people are dreaming of just yet. That's still quite a few years of, I believe.

As I said, I don't have all the information/knowledge, if you think I'm missing something please let me know, via e-mail of via the comments.

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