HIE staff outside the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus building

Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC)

What we’re seeing in Orkney is the energy future for the country, writes Stuart Black, chief executive of HIE.

Last week was my first trip to Orkney as chief executive and the first since I took a holiday there and Shetland last year. It was great to be back.

There’s so much inspiring activity happening across the island – it really is a fundamental part of the region’s economy and it was fascinating to see so many active projects in situ.


I visited Orbital Marine, the renewable energy company focused on the development and global deployment of its pioneering floating turbine technology. The company employs 22 people and has a base at one of our units at Hatston. I also got to see Mocean Energy’s wave device on the pier - a project part funded by our subsidiary, Wave Energy Scotland.

Orkney is of course renowned for its food and drink products, so while in Hatston, I visited Orkney Cheese, which employs around 20 people. We’ve supported them recently to invest in new equipment to expand and diversify the business.

It’s an excellent example of a company producing a traditional product while adapting to new markets. It maintains an important export presence, with 65% of its production going to France.

Using produce from 14 local dairy farms helps keep their carbon footprint low compared with many other cheese makers.

At Kirkwall Airport I got to see a UK-first – a combined heat and power plant – driven by hydrogen, produced by tidal energy. This underlines Orkney’s status as the renewable centre for Scotland and the UK. What we’re seeing there is really the energy future for the country where hydrogen is going to be more and more important.


On a fantastic boat trip out to Eday I saw the project that uses tidal energy to create green hydrogen at the European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC’s) tidal energy test site. We recently helped with the battery storage facility there through Scottish Government funding. Green hydrogen is an essential step towards a 100% renewable future.

I got a feel for what it’s like to live on Eday and heard about some of the challenges of working on the island.


In Stromness, I went to the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC), a joint venture between HIE and Orkney Islands Council. This plays an important role in supporting the growth of existing research and innovation activity and the expansion of companies in Orkney’s marine renewables, energy and low carbon sector.

Less than three years since the first phase opened, there are already more than 160 people working there. This is amazing for a community of 2,000. Several businesses are established in the facility as well as Heriot Watt and Robert Gordon Universities.

ORIC is housed in the refurbished former Stromness Academy and primary school and has a huge impact on the community. It has attracted many international students, and businesses that are very international in their outlook. Aquatera, for example, provides worldwide environmental and operational support for off-shore, coastal and land-based activities.

I also visited The Pier Arts Centre, which recently purchased the former Post Office. The Centre has ambitions to transform the building into a creative practice hub, linking with its residency centre in Birsay.  The Post Office is an impressive building, and we’re keen to work with them on their plans which are part of the Creative Islands & Wellbeing Programme of the Islands Deal.


I visited Swannay Brewery, based in an old steading on the north-west tip of Mainland Orkney, a company we’ve helped with recent expansion.

It’ll soon be opening a new tap room using a theme very much in keeping with Orkney’s heritage. It’s a stunning bar where people can do tastings. It will appeal to visitors as well as local people and will create more jobs in the future.

As I said in my previous blog, there’s nothing more motivational than meeting people and visiting places, and visiting businesses and community groups in Orkney has been a real highlight for me. I plan to do the same in other areas across the region over the next few weeks.

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