This engineer used technology to build a community to fight “fuel poverty”

By Rosie MacLeod
August 30, 2021

This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Facebook’s tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections, and community.

I’m from the Isle of Raasay, off Scotland’s western coast, and co-chair of Raasay Community Renewables, a group working to build two hydropower projects here. There are many reasons our community wants to build hydropower programs, but a big one is something that’s known as “fuel poverty.”

Power usage is greater during winter months. The weather gets so horrible here — windy and wet — that everyone must heat their homes. Many houses are old, and not very well insulated. They rely on carbon-heavy heating systems that are expensive, due to a lack of infrastructure and high electricity prices. This ultimately means that people expend a huge amount of income just to keep their homes warm. If you're spending over a certain percentage of your income on heating and fuel, the Scottish government classifies you as being in “fuel poverty,” and the share of the population that’s in that category is very high on remote islands. Complicating matters, many people here are older and live on a fixed income.

While the two hydropower projects won’t directly fulfill Raasay’s energy demands, they’ll provide vital income. By harnessing the power of Raasay’s many water streams, the programs are expected to produce 137 kilowatts when operating at full capacity. We can sell that power to Scotland’s National Grid, and generate money to improve our own infrastructure.

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I was living on the island when I heard that Raasay Community Renewables was looking for board members to push the projects along. As a mechanical engineer, I was intrigued and got involved immediately. Within months, Ross Gillies and I became co-chairs. An important part of our job was getting the word out about issues like fuel poverty. If we were going to ask people from near and far to invest £650,000 ($902,000 USD) in our hydro projects, they needed to know why it was important — even beyond concerns about sustainability.

We helped make videos that introduced different folks across the island, explaining why they wanted hydropower. We featured people from the Raasay Community Stores, as well as from the Raasay Community Hall. We wanted to show that there was life on the island beyond retirees. And we shared those videos on our Facebook Group page, along with informative posts about how hydro projects work.

Because we were in COVID, we had to rely 100% on social media. In January, when we first started posting, our followers were all community members. Then people shared on their group pages. Now, our followers come from all over the world.

As we start construction on the hydropower project this summer, we’ll post updates — snapping photos of incoming material, for example, to build excitement. Once we’re up-and-running, we’ll probably post data on how much electricity was generated each month. We can show how we created a certain amount of energy, because we had a certain amount of rain, and I think that's something that followers will find interesting.

It’s nice to see social media being used for something really positive. We have this lovely thing to rally around. And it’s because Facebook Groups kind of did it for us.

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