The gentle, traditional power of Shetland wind and sun - making salt and curing fish

by Tom Morton -

It’s easy to become absorbed in the massive power projects happening, or expected to happen on and around Shetland, from oil and gas related, multi-billion pound affairs like Laggan-Tormore to decommissioning, tidal and windfarm developments.

Even erecting a domestic wind generator can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

As I write, we await (23 August at Mareel in Lerwick) a consultation on the possibility of an ‘interconnector’ undersea cable which would allow renewable electricity generated in Shetland to be sent to he UK mainland.

This is intimately bound up with the massive windfarm proposed by Viking Energy, which is seeking government funding under the so-called ‘Contracts for Difference’ scheme. It’s still not clear whether or not land-based island windfarm developments will be allowed to bid for this cash. A decision will probably be taken by the end of the year.

Then there’s the hydrocarbon-related activity around our shores - exploration continues, despite the low oil price, and Lerwick remains a busy harbour. At the beginning of August the Clair Ridge construction phase finished, moving this massive BP development another step closer to first production.

A decision will probably be made later this year

Millions, billions of pounds are at stake, but perhaps it’s worth looking at very simple, natural, indeed ancient ‘renewable power’ technologies which are cheap, accessible and offer tremendous opportunities to small communities such as Shetland.

Let’s take salt fish, for example. When I first arrived in the isles, almost 40 years ago, it was common to see salted fish, particularly piltocks (known as sillocks when younger, and elsewhere as coalfish or saithe) pegged to clothes lines and drying in the wind.

Because Shetland’s wind and long hours of summer daylight have always played their part in providing energy for food production. What could be more natural?

One company, run by the Polson family from Cunningsburgh, is now providing international customers with this natural delicacy, using age-old techniques which capitalise on Shetland’s pure environment and its power. Thule Ventus, (Latin for Wind from the Edge of the World) provides salt cod and pollock dried in the open air using that most natural and effective of Shetland commodities, the wind.

Said David Polson of the company:

“Our salt cured cod and pollock are the highest quality, hand-crafted artisan produce. We only use the finest, freshest and largest cod and pollock available. We only buy from Shetland’s famous fish market from locally owned boats that make short trips and catch from sustainable, quota controlled stock.

“We fillet our cod and pollock and make them available skinned or unskinned, so that they are as easy to prepare as they are tasty to eat!

“Our fish is lovingly prepared in small batches, in a process that takes at least a month, to create truly unique and special seafood. There are other salt cured cod and pollock available, but none quite like the ones prepared by our traditional family methods, or from the pristine, wild seas around Shetland, or cured in the pure Shetland wind.”

Shetland's wind and long hours of summer daylight have always played their part in providing energy for food production

Now, it struck me that to make this product absolutely perfect, it could be cured using Shetland salt. Sea salt from the purest northern waters, made naturally using renewable energy. At first I thought the tidal or wind energy producers could use their power for such a purpose, and then I heard about the Isle of Skye Sea Salt company, which uses a line of polytunnels and no extra power at all, save the wind and the sun.

In Shetland, the community company Nortenergy makes its own very special, incredibly robust Polycrubs - highly weather resistant polytunnels which use hard acrylic outers and recycles salmon farm pipes in their construction - both for local customers and and increasing number further afield. A line of Polycrubs next to the sea could provide, even without any connection to electricity, natural sea salt which would be perfect for salting cod. They're even mor efficient in terms of passive solar energy transmission than an ordinary polytunnel.

That would be a small project which would require little investment and the environmental footprint of which would be minimal, if not beneficial. And would add an even greater sense of locality to products like those of Thule Ventus.

These are small, local projects. But they represent and celebrate the purity of the Shetland environment, capitalise on it and potentially produce wonderful products with great international appeal.

There are answers blowing in the Shetland wind. to all kinds of questions, some of which have yet to be asked.

Small, local projects which represent and celebrate the purity of the Shetland environment

Posted in: Renewables