The rugged beauty of the archipelago has been a source of fascination since time immemorial. The windswept mix of land and sea fired the imagination of our Neolithic ancestors when they built the ancient architectural treasures which still stand as an eloquent monument to an early civilisation.
Centuries later the islands were coveted by marauding Vikings who were so enchanted they settled for hundreds of years, leaving a distinctive inheritance of Norse architecture, culture and language.
More recently, the islands have witnessed moments of great historical significance, such as the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow in 1919. A couple of decades later Scapa Flow would play a crucial role in the fight against the Nazis as the UK’s main base for the Royal Navy.
But as absorbing and important as Orkney’s rich heritage happens to be, it was perhaps fitting that the Royal couple’s visit on Tuesday focused on a far more modern feature of island life. And one which will also deliver a profound legacy.
Orkney may lie on the extremities of the United Kingdom in terms of geography. But it is right at the heart of a world-leading renewables’ revolution that is generating hundreds of island jobs as well as planet-saving green energy.
As powerful advocates of the environment, it seemed entirely appropriate that the Earl and Countess’s Scottish itinerary should include a visit to the European Marine Energy Centre (Emec).
Based in Stromness, Emec boasts an unrivalled facility for testing wave and tidal energy and a global reputation for tackling climate change.
Since its establishment almost 20-years ago, Emec has been at the forefront of producing green energy, using the technology of tomorrow to harness the power of our natural resources.
Emec’s open-sea testing facilities, combined with the exceptional expertise of local workers, has led to the development of numerous projects that are crucial to conserving the planet and driving down harmful emissions.
Experts from all over the world have collaborated with the centre to produce low-carbon energy and carry out ground-breaking work which will only become more important as we transition away from fossil fuels.
At the forefront of Emec’s bright future will be our hugely ambitious plans to take Scotland’s islands further along the road of becoming a world-leading renewables powerhouse.
The centre stands ready to play a prominent role in the exciting plans to tackle climate change contained in the UK government-backed Islands Growth Deal.
Crucial to the deal will be Emec’s role in spearheading the business case for a brand-new Islands Centre for Net Zero.
Subject to business case approval, the UK government will spend up to £16 million on the Net Zero project as part of the Islands Growth Deal, worth a total of £335 million to Scotland’s most remote areas.
The Islands Centre for Net Zero will empower islands to reduce carbon emissions in the most imaginative and effective ways while creating 300 sustainable “green” jobs and attracting longer term investment.
Led by Emec, the project is an excellent fit for a group of islands which have been at the vanguard of renewables technology.
Blessed with an abundance of wind and waves, Orkney islanders’ commitment to green energy can be seen in everyday life.
It is not just those who work on state-of-the-art renewables projects who demonstrate their enthusiasm for the environment and conservation. It can also be seen in the small-scale wind turbines powering households dotted across the islands and locals embracing the benefits of electric vehicles.
The Centre for Net Zero will capitalise on this prowess for conservation, which has been built up over decades. And although co-ordinated from Orkney, the centre will work on a cross-island basis with local hubs in Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. They will work with Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, the private sector and community organisations.
It has the potential to transform these Scottish islands into communities which will lead the way when it comes to Scotland, the UK and even the world meeting ambitious climate targets.
The centre is just one of a series of green projects that lie at the heart of the Islands Growth Deal, which will see the UK government and devolved Scottish government each inject £50 million into local communities with the total combined investment, including partners, of up to £335 million over the next decade.
The work carried out on the islands is part of the series of city and growth deals which cover regions across Scotland and are backed by UK government investment of £1.5 billion.
An unbreakable green thread runs through all the city and growth deals which are creating jobs and investment across Scotland.
It is a thread that runs from Orkney through the Stornoway-based Outer Hebrides Energy Hub, which will supply green hydrogen created by wind energy, supported by £11 million from the UK government. Through ambitious recycling research and development in the Tay Cities deal, through sustainable transport projects in the Central Belt as well as Aberdeen City deal initiatives to manage the transition from oil and gas in a way that uses local knowledge and creates jobs.
With the UK government hosting the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year, these deals are further examples of our commitment to the environment and to Scotland.
They are a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved when the UK government and devolved Scottish government work together and with local authorities, business, universities and communities for the good of the Scottish people and the planet as a whole.
Iain Stewart is MP for Milton Keynes South and a Scotland Office minister