In the past Highlanders used natural resources - peat, water and wind - as sources of energy.
Most domestic heating was got from burning peat. Peat is still dug by traditional methods in many areas, but the practice is dying out. Attempts to use peat for commercial electricity generation have not proved successful.
For centuries water power was used for milling grain. Simple 'Norse' mills were found across the Highlands, while larger water mills were common in farming areas. By the late 19th century water began to be used for generating electricity, e.g. at the Falls of Luichart in Central Rosshire. The need for abundant cheap electricity for aluminium smelting led to the construction of the first major hydro schemes at Lochaber, Kinlochleven and Foyers. With the setting up of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board in 1949, there followed the construction of large hydro schemes linked to the south by a network of pylon lines.
Wind power was difficult to harness and traditional windmills were few. Today, in the search for alternative energies, there are moves back to wind power for electricity generation. Large windfarms have already been built at Novar in Ross-shire and Beinn Ghlas in Argyll. Coal mined at Brora until 1974 was never important; any steam engines were powered by imported coal. Wood, in the form of charcoal, was used for iron smelting and the remains of such iron works are to be found at Loch Awe and Loch Maree.
For a while nuclear energy seemed to offer a way forward for the future, but the experimental fast breeder reactor at Dounreay in Caithness has now closed.
Oil & gas
Large oil and gas reserves were discovered offshore in the early 1970s and have brought much wealth and work to the Highlands and Islands. Oil rig construction yards opened at Arnish Point (Lewis), Kishorn (Lochcarron) and Nigg (Easter Ross).
Today the Highlands & Islands are one of the richest energy provinces in Europe with large oil and gas reserves offshore and abundant hydro, wind and wave power.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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