Tourism currently accounts for around 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. Dealing with that head-on, is critical to all our futures. And that is why a marriage between renewables and tourism industries can further the goals of each and contribute to the Highlands’ economy and its communities.
The windpower that took our highland diaspora off to the farthest corners of the empire in sailing ships, can bring them back to explore their past with clear consciences. The water of life that makes our world-renowned whiskies can also bring visitors to our distilleries secure in the knowledge that the same water made renewable energy upstream.
“I joined Highland Tourism CIC as a board member because I passionately believe the tourism and renewables sectors have shown they can work together but they can do so much more. From experts on the ground and published research evidence, it is clear that tourism is not negatively affected by wind farms or other renewables project. On the contrary, we have seen progress in low carbon heating, the electric vehicle charge network fast tracked, and celebration with interpretation of renewable developments that have provided unique visitor experiences.
“My epiphany was that both industries have a responsibility to work together to create a sustainable economy across the region. And with the climate emergency as an over-riding priority for every one of us, the responsibility has never been greater. Highland Tourism CIC has established a specific Climate Change Leadership Group which which is now working hard to bring these two sectors together in a meaningful and sustainable way. As we bounce back from the pandemic and deal with the cost of living and energy crisis, this work has never been more important.”
George Baxter, Highland Tourism CIC Director and Director of Development,
Tourism and renewable energy technologies have been working side by side in the highlands for over 130 years. Our wind, our water and our wonders first captured the imaginations of engineers and tourists in the 19th century. That vision expanded throughout the 20th century to create a dynamic tourism industry and a hugely productive renewables industry. This now puts us in a position to tackle the problems of centuries to come. By bringing together our wealth of renewable energy, with the richness of our natural attractions, we can offer visitors some of the most sustainable and inspiring experiences on the planet.
Sir Alexander Gray
The abundance of windy spaces across the Highlands makes them the ideal place to capture the wind. And the world’s first turbine to harness wind energy to make electricity, was right beside the Highlands, in Marykirk, where it powered a holiday home. So, tourism and renewables have been hand in hand right from the start. There are now windfarms right across the highlands and at offshore locations around our coasts, helping to power tourism infrastructure right across the Highlands and sustain our economy with new jobs and opportunities.
Nan Shepherd’s consciousness of Highland landscapes and nature has inspired a generation of writers and the water she describes here, has had a similar effect on our engineers. Scotland’s first hydro Scheme was right here in the Highlands. Installed in 1890, for the Benedictine Monks of Fort Augustus, the scheme also provided power for the local community. Queen Victoria was not far behind when a hydroelectric scheme was installed at Balmoral in 1898. Another example of tourism working in tandem with renewable technology. The highlands are now home to many of Scotland’s most ambitious hydro-electric plants and make a major contribution to the Highlands’ self-sufficiency in renewable energy. Building and maintaining them, has created work and long-term jobs for over a century making hydro a bulwark of the highland economy.
Queen Victoria’s love of our epic Highland landscapes inspired her to buy Balmoral in 1852 as the family’s holiday home. Her patronage heralded the birth of a world-famous tourist destination with people coming from all over the world to discover what had inspired the most powerful woman on the planet. Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world, also chose the Highlands to make his holiday home, adding to the region’s reputation and exclusivity. The Highlands have never lost that cachet as a tourist destination but now we must adapt the way we present our wonders to cater to 21st century aspirations. People are looking for more genuine and active experiences of places – where they can truly engage with nature and communities. Where environmental concerns are being taken care of. And where they can relax into a deeper, purer state of consciousness.
Water and wind are only part of our story. As a region, we can raise the bar even higher with wave, tidal, geothermal and solar power. We can harness our wastes with biofuels, anaerobic digestion and biomass solutions. We can store renewables to balance periods of excess generation. We can capture carbon and create hydrogen.
These developments won’t just come from industry. Communities and individuals can invest in renewable technologies to reduce their environmental impact and step up to drive our shared climate-positive vision for the Highlands. By embracing renewable solutions, we will all create a more welcoming, reassuring, environment for our visitors and, ultimately, generate a more buoyant, sustainable economy that will enrich all of our communities.
Highland Tourism CIC’s Climate Positive Leadership Group (CPLG) was formed in March 2022 and brings together a range of experts and experienced professionals from a variety of backgrounds to identify and realise opportunities for the tourism and renewable energy sectors to work together. The aim of the CPLG will be to work for a climate positive future across the region and to enable Highland Tourism CIC to realise its vision of a sustainable future for the industry.