Energy at the End of the World
An Orkney Islands Saga
- Winner of the 2021 Rachel Carson Prize by the Society for Social Studies of Science
440 pp., 5 x 8 in, 32 color illus.
- Published: January 15, 2019
- Published: December 21, 2018
Making local energy futures, from marine energy to hydrogen fuel, at the edge of the world.
The islands of Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland, are closer to the Arctic Circle than to London. Surrounded by fierce seas and shrouded by clouds and mist, the islands seem to mark the edge of the known world. And yet they are a center for energy technology innovation, from marine energy to hydrogen fuel networks, attracting the interest of venture capitalists and local communities. In this book, Laura Watts tells a story of making energy futures at the edge of the world.
Orkney, Watts tells us, has been making technology for six thousand years, from arrowheads and stone circles to wave and tide energy prototypes. Artifacts and traces of all the ages—Stone, Bronze, Iron, Viking, Silicon—are visible everywhere. The islanders turned to energy innovation when forced to contend with an energy infrastructure they had outgrown. Today, Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, established in 2003. There are about forty open-sea marine energy test facilities in the world, many of which draw on Orkney expertise. The islands generate more renewable energy than they use, are growing hydrogen fuel and electric car networks, and have hundreds of locally owned micro wind turbines and a decade-old smart grid. Mixing storytelling and ethnography, empiricism and lyricism, Watts tells an Orkney energy saga—an account of how the islands are creating their own low-carbon future in the face of the seemingly impossible. The Orkney Islands, Watts shows, are playing a long game, making energy futures for another six thousand years.
An enormously creative, richly told story of how energy infrastructures are being remade by everyday people in a remote place. Energy at the End of the World explores how rural places are constrained by, but not limited to, the visions of infrastructure that emanate from urban centers.
Phoebe Sengers, Associate Professor, Cornell University
Energy at the End of the World is exceptionally ambitious, forming an almost entirely new genre. The playful and skillful interweaving of empirical detail, mythological imagery, theoretical positioning, graphic novel elements, poetry, photo essays, and daring writing style throughout converge in a work that matches analytical depth with accessibility and attractiveness. The book isn't like a cool breeze through the publishing practices in the field, but more like an electrifying storm.
Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Linköping University and VU University, Amsterdam
What new ways of being might renewables bring? Moving fluently among neolithic, neoliberal, and rhizomic imaginations, Laura Watts joins Orkney landscapes to everyday voices in this lyrical and insightful saga of worlds in flux. Elegy and analysis, ethnography and manifesto: the result is a rare glimpse of what can be achieved with committed transdisciplinary inspiration and rigor. This engaging book is a vital aid to thinking outside the box about the coming energy revolution.
Andrew Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology, University of Sussex
Energy at the End of the World is a fabulous scientific saga by a firmly grounded archaeologist of possible futures. It's a must-read poetic musing for researchers and designers engaged in the mundane practices of everyday future making in any nook of the world.
Pelle Ehn, design researcher and Professor Emeritus, Malmö University, Sweden
This is an enthralling introduction to the unique socioenvironment of Orkney and the making of energy on these islands. Drawing upon the traditional sagas, Watts uses a variety of storytelling techniques as a framework for her analysis. Her expertise at spinning a tale not only serves to entice the reader into her research, it also shows an essential continuity in the islanders' approach to energy generation from ancient times to the present day.
Pippa Goldschmidt, Writer-in-Residence at STIS, University of Edinburgh; author of The Falling Sky and The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space; coeditor of I Am Because You Are
Tells the intriguing tale of how Orcadians have begun to create their own low-carbon future against incredible odds and with only a little help from the mainland.
The greatest contribution of Watts's book, and it is a striking one, is that the Orcadian idiom for talking about energy infrastructures is guided largely by thinking about relationships – and relationships necessarily involve pasts, presents and futures.
Times Literary Supplement
Innovation and perseverance are two of the most important qualities that Dr. Laura Watts identifies as the driving forces behind the renewable energy revolution taking place in the Orkney Islands. The Scottish archipelago is on the leading edge of the world's energy future and as Dr. Watts explores in her recent book, Energy At The End Of The World, the projects taking place in Orkney are at the cutting-edge of technology.