Dr Dave Quirk first started looking into the Isle of Man’s potential to become carbon neutral back in 2016 and has been working on helping the island make the transition from a fossil-fuel society to clean energy ever since. As he works with MHK Ralph Peake to establish the Energy and Sustainability Centre Isle of Man, a non-profit research and education institute, we sat down with the duo to learn more about their idea on how our island could benefit by becoming a world leader in the field and why we need to act fast.
Earlier this year, the UK Government held a leasing round for wind farm licences where energy companies bid for areas of seabed as potential sites for wind turbines. An area in the East Irish Sea, just beyond Manx territorial waters was won by a group of companies who are paying the Crown Estate £231 million per year, just for the right to research possibilities. Much more money will be involved if and when contracts to develop a wind farm and sell the electricity. The size of this licence is 800 km2, equivalent to 20% of the Isle of Man’s territorial sea. Dr Quirk said this is a great example of the current value in renewable energy and illustrates why we should be working towards a cleaner future, not only reducing carbon emissions but also creating a new source of income for the Isle of Man.
He said: ‘It has been said that the North Sea and Irish Sea is the Middle East of wind because there’s a huge energy resource there, 20 years ago that wouldn’t have been useful because wind turbines were in their infancy, but nowadays it’s a well developed business so the question is how to utilise the energy that’s there.’
Though it is hard to have an exact idea on how to set up the relevant infrastructure to start making the energy transition, going from fossil fuels to zero emissions, Dr Quirk said: ‘If the government was really ambitious, you could get the legislation in place by the end of the year. The actual engineering and licensing could probably then all be done in five years, and there is an advantage in doing it at this speed because other countries are realising there is a space here to be filled. You’ve only got a brief window to do this, if you decide to just “wait and see” then the opportunity will be missed and the Isle of Man will just be carried along by everyone else.’
The gov’s current target will see the island reach net zero emissions by 2050 and Dr Quirk says that timing is mainly down to the huge reliance we currently have on carbon. He said: ‘If you just want electricity to be carbon neutral, you could do that in a 5-15 year period, but the problem is you have all this other power that’s being used. All the cars driving round the island, for example, have one of the biggest carbon footprints, and then there’s heating, farming and other industries, almost everything is producing greenhouse gases as we’re currently set up. So if you’re going to electrify all our activities, which is what will ultimately happen, that’s a bigger step.’
Recently, Minister for Policy and Reform Ray Harmer committed to following the UK’s example and banning the sale of petrol or diesel cars on the island by 2030 and Mr Peake said that these changes are actually largely driven by manufacturers. He said: ‘They’re all coming out with electric vehicles now, they realise how easier and cheaper it is for them to produce, they’re easier to drive, the maintenance is lower and there’s obviously less impact on the environment when you’re driving.’ He added: ‘There’s a commitment by the DoI and MUA to have a ratio of 10% electric charging points to the number of vehicles. We’ve fallen behind a little bit on that but the promenade scheme has charging points planned and there’ll be more in Peel and Ramsey, so we are catching up.’
Dr Quirk explained that Manx people should see this as a chance to show the world what they can do. He said: ‘Imagine if 15 years from now you could walk around the Isle of Man and think “my goodness, look what we’ve done, this society has transformed.” You’ve even got visitors now who come to see energy storage facilities and the whole island could have reduced its effect on the climate down to 10% of what it was, heading to 0. I know some people don’t like wind turbines but if they’re earning money for the island and you can see that things are getting greener, it’s fantastic.’
Mr Peake added: ‘It makes me think of what the people of Laxey might have thought of the Lady Isabella when that was going up, it was originally done for purely business reasons to pump water out the mine, but now obviously people travel the world to come and see it.’
The gov has been conducting schemes designed to reduce the island’s carbon footprint for years but Dr Quirk says we need to scale up our efforts massively. He said: ‘If you look at the Meary Veg tree planting scheme, that will offset some carbon but we’ve worked out that you’d need 2,000 Meary Veg’s to completely offset the island’s current carbon footprint. The scale of our consumption and production of carbon dioxide in our modern life is phenomenal.’
He added: ‘We are entirely a carbon society, if you look around your home or office all those materials involve fossil fuels in one way or another. Everybody thinks this is going to cost an awful lot of money but, if you can do this in a collaborative way, then everybody can benefit. The Isle of Man is in that ideal position of having yet to put in legislation so at the same time you can sort of invent what the future is going to be but that means everybody needs to be on board, you need to take all views on board.’
The Energy and Sustainability Centre exists to progress a sustainable economy and a fair energy transition for the Isle of Man, they are currently working on furthering their partnerships which will be announced soon, including support from leading universities. Find out more about the centre on their website at https://www.energysustainabilitycentre.im/