Islay, Scotland

June 13, 2011, 4:36 am
Content Cover Image

Ardnave Point, northernmost element of Islay. @ C.Michael Hogan

Islay, Scotland (55° 46' 0.00"N, 6° 9' 0.00 W) is an island off the west coast of Scotland where the world's first commercial wave power station went into operation in 2000 near Portahaven.

caption Wave power station
caption Gartacharra standing stone with Loch Indaal in background.
@ C.Michael Hogan

Islay is the most southerly of the Hebridean Islands, located on the west coast of Scotland. Islay is pronounced 'eye-la'. It is about 25 miles long north-south and 20 miles wide east-west. The human population of the island is around 3400 (and upwards of 60,000 geese).

The wave power generator was designed and built by Wavegen, developed by researchers at Queen's University in Belfast, and financed by the European Union. Limpet 500 (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) can generate 500 kilowatts of power using an oscillating water column (OWC) in an inclined concrete tube located below water level.

The device comprises a sloping reinforced shell built into the rock face on the shoreline with an inlet big enough to allow seawater to freely enter and leave a central chamber. As waves enter the shell chamber, the level of water rises, compressing the air in the top of the chamber. The waves cause the water level in the collector to oscillate, compressing and decompressing the trapped air in the column. The air flows through a pair of turbines, producing 250kW each. Limpet is optimized for annual average wave intensities of between 15 and 25kW/m. Actual power generation varies directly with wave power. This design is but one of several that are being tested in various regions of the world.

The station generally supplies power to approximately 400 households and the Islay Wave Bus, an electric vehicle. The bus recharges overnight at the station and is able to run at about one-third the price of a diesel bus. The remaining power is imported from the mainland via the Island of Jura. Because of the need for imported energy, Islay was an ideal site for such a trial of new technology. Other factors that contributed to the site selection included relatively consistent wave strength and residents who were receptive to new ideas.

Ancient History

Mesolithic hunter gatherers inhabited Islay as early as 10,800 BC, based upon finds of the earliest evidence of humans in all of Scotland, in the form of stone tools.  Abundant freshwater ponds and marshes not only provided ample water to these early settlers, but also engendered a habitat for abundant birdlife. Thus these early peoples could exploit hunting and marine resources as well as eventually become neolithic grain farmers. Chief traces of these early peoples include standing stones such as a large example near the present day village of Bruichladdich.


There are several points of Special Scientific Interests on Islay as classified by the government of the United Kingdom. Gruinart Flats and the Rinns of Islay are notable examples of such sites. In addition there are significant natural areas in the north of the island at Ardnave Point, where certain rare birds and considerable numbers of other coastal species are found. Many of the shoreline areas of the island are highly fractal and offer abundant opportunities for observing basking seals and numerous shorebirds.

Further Reading

  • Les Ducker. 1996. 'Wave Energy, in Renewable Energy - power for a sustainable future, Editor: Godfrey Boyle, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN: 0-19-856451-1
  • Alistair Moffat. 2005. Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History.  London. Thames & Hudson
  • David Ross, Power from the Waves, Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-19-856511-9


Cleveland, C. (2011). Islay, Scotland. Retrieved from


To add a comment, please Log In.