Barra and Vatersay are two very remote islands at the south end to the Outer Hebrides with a combined population of over 1,300 people.

The community-led Local Energy Plan for Barra and Vatersay was developed in 2018 to help the community to look at its existing and future energy needs in terms of power, heat and transport and work out the priorities for action.

Developing Barra and Vatersay’s Local Energy Plan

cover image of Local Energy Plan for Barra and Vatersay

The development of Barra and Vatersay’s Local Energy Plan was led by a local steering group. The steering group included representatives from the two community councils, Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay, the Hebridean Housing Association and Barratlantic, a local business.

Barra and Vatersay were put forward as a location to develop a local energy plan by Coimhearsnachd Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaidh (Barra and Vatersay Community Ltd), a local community group who developed and manage the community owned 900kW wind turbine. They were also a member of the steering group.

Specialist technical support to develop the plan was provided by the Wood Group, with local engagement activity being supported by Community Energy Scotland.

Local drop-in events took place in Northbay and Castlebay in March 2018 to allow members of the community to get involved in the development of the plan. The plan was also promoted through other community activities. A second workshop event took place in Castlebay in May 2018 to collect views on the draft plan and confirm the priorities for the finalised plan.

Implementing the plan

The plan proposed seventeen actions to progress including those with an immediate focus and longer-term opportunities that can be developed. Actions were based around four key themes: energy efficiency, energy generation, transport, and smart energy systems.

The majority of the actions identified in the plan have been progressed. Activity has been coordinated through the Barra Energy Group. The plan has provided a clear mandate to take forward projects and secure funding, which has included the following.

Community awareness events

Electric vehicle driver awareness training and an ebike loan scheme has also been provided.

Barra Energy in Motion project

This project extended the electric vehicle charging infrastructure on Barra and purchased a small seven-seat electric vehicle for the community. Funding was secured in 2018 and 2019 to install electric vehicle charging points at the new community hub at Garadh a’ Bagh a’ Tuath, in Northbay. The system is integrated with the site, which receives power from a 6kW wind turbine. Battery storage will increase the use of on-site renewable generation, and there is the potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to be added at a later date.

Castlebay Marina facility block

Solar PV, water efficient appliances and rainwater harvesting were incorporated into the new block that opened in 2019. Four ebikes, a storage container and battery storage linked to the solar PV have also been added. An interpretation panel provides information.

Castlebay Energy Hub

In February 2021, Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay secured funding to further extend the electric vehicle infrastructure by installing a charging hub in Castlebay and buying a new electric minibus.

Herring Walk upgrade and extension

This project aims to develop and promote active travel path networks within Castlebay. Some advanced funding has been secured, and efforts to secure match funding for the main works are ongoing.

Feasibility Studies

Several feasibility and scoping studies have helped to promote further development of the island’s energy systems. These include the following.

  • Energy Technology Partnership Scoping Study – published in March 2019, it explored opportunities for a multi-customer private wire generation option centred around the industrial cluster of Barratlantic and Scottish Water in Northbay. It also looked at opportunities for a District Heating Scheme in Castlebay, anchored by development of a new hospital and school.
  • Scottish Western Isles Ferry Transport using Hydrogen (SWIFTH2) – this feasibility report has considered the suitability of the Barra to Eriskay ferry using Hydrogen.
  • Suas an Fheamainn Onshore Facilities (2021) – this involves a technical and commercial feasibility study looking at pre-processing equipment and low-carbon power supply options to support a proposed Vatersay Seaweed Farm.
  • Various MSc studies have also developed the community’s knowledge in research areas including zero-import energy systems and district heating.

Carbon Reduction Savings Pilot (CRSP)

A grant application has been made to support the electrification of five homes by installing solar PV, battery storage and thermal storage systems. The benefits to homeowners will include flexible time-of-use tariffs, electricity sales to the grid, no need to buy fuel oil, as well as reduced carbon emissions and energy bills

Barra and Vatersay Community Carbon Reset (BVCCR)

Pending successful grant applications made in 2021, this project will involve installing almost 500 kW of distributed solar assets and intelligent water heating systems in 125 homes. BVCCR will support the community’s transition to dual-rate electricity tariffs, while reducing domestic energy bills and carbon emissions.

Decentralised Water Technologies Programme

The community company are collaborating with the University of Glasgow on this EPSRC research programme in 2021.

In 2020, the Uist and Barra Community Energy Forum was set up so that the two island groups could work together to progress their shared energy needs.

Download the full Local Energy Plan for Barra and Vatersay

Download the Plan Summary for Barra and Vatersay