Time for a change: Energy for distilling on Islay

Islay, the island with 9 distilleries burning 15 million litres of fuel oil every year but surrounded by some of the UK’s best tidal power resource (not to mention plenty of wind power). Time for a change?

Most remote distilleries use fuel oil to provide energy for steam, which drives the distillation process (most of the rest use natural gas). The 9 distilleries on Islay are no different. The use of oil (or gas) creates CO2 emissions which are the cause of climate change. And the cost of the 15 million litres per year of oil is a hefty £8 million/year

The Sound of Islay, separating Islay from Jura, has fast tidal currents and has been the target for potential tidal power projects for some time. A 10MW tidal array has been consented here and along with a 30MW tidal array to the west of Islay, demonstrate the massive potential for marine renewables around Islay and around Scotland.

However, current demand for electricity on the island is not sufficient to justify these developments. Power export to the mainland would be required and the cost of the electrical connection makes the project non-economic.

So….wouldn’t it make sense to use renewable power on the island to replace the use of fuel oil at all the distilleries?

The integration of renewable energy into the distilling process has not been straightforward. Greenstills, a technology solution developed by Pale Blue Dot Energy is the key enabler. This provides a new approach to the distillation energy system which reduces energy requirements through system efficiencies and enables the integration of intermittent renewables (large or small scale). The Greenstills process involves a move away from steam, a new approach to heat exchange and a novel re-use of heat from the condensers.

The 9 distilleries need 30MW (average), 40MW (peak) total energy demand. Islay’s tidal power can support this level of demand, which could be developed in a phased manner. Surveys have highlighted the areas around Islay as having some of the highest tidal energy potential in Europe.

If we are to meet our climate change targets, change is needed.

There is an exciting opportunity on Islay and thus for scotch.


This blog is written by Tim Dumenil and Sam Gomersall.

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