Scotland’s huge offshore wind potential provides it with an unparalleled opportunity to use renewable energy to decarbonise its economy and export green hydrogen to Europe, a late-May conference heard
Speaking at an Opportunities Forum Scotland webinar entitled ‘Green hydrogen at industrial scale for a zero-carbon future,’ Scottish Enterprise hydrogen specialist David Holman said “Scotland has an enormous opportunity to produce green hydrogen from offshore wind, for its own domestic use, and for export.”
Mr Holman said 25% of Europe’s entire offshore wind resource ‘crosses the seas around Scotland’ and highlighted that the first ScotWind leasing round – one of what is expected to be a number of leasing rounds – could see 10 GW more offshore wind built in Scottish waters in the near term.
However, in the longer term, said Mr Holman, with exploitation of its huge floating wind resource, Scotland has a theoretical offshore wind potential of 735 GW, according to an as yet unpublished study by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.
With the potential development of even a small amount of this massive wind resource in mind, he said, developers have already begun discussing projects that could see electricity from offshore windfarms used domestically and hydrogen produced for export, potentially from the same projects.
Taking advantage of that potential, Scotland could become a hub for a European distribution network for green hydrogen produced using electricity from offshore windfarms, Mr Holman said.
Existing gas pipelines could be re-purposed for green hydrogen, he suggested and St Fergus, where around 35% of the UK’s natural gas currently lands, is “ideally positioned” to be a node connecting green hydrogen from offshore wind to pipelines serving customers in Europe.
Mr Holman highlighted the Scottish Government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% from 1990 levels by 2030, by 90% by 2040 and for the country to become a net zero emissions economy by 2045, five years ahead of the wider UK net zero target for 2050.
He explained that, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and the Highlands & Islands Council, Arup & E4Tech are undertaking a hydrogen assessment project that includes scenarios that would illustrate Scotland’s potential hydrogen economy. The report, to be published later this year or in early 2020, will inform the Scottish Government’s decarbonisation policy.
Mr Holman said he expected hydrogen to play a significant role in decarbonisation as a ‘diverse energy vector’ and highlighted a number of pilot projects that are already underway in the country making use of hydrogen, and initiatives underway in the northeast of Scotland to scale up production of blue and green hydrogen, among them the Dolphyn floating wind-to-hydrogen demonstrator, which is likely to be sited off Aberdeen, starting in 2024.
Speaking at the same event, DeepWind senior development manager, energy and inward investment Paul O’Brien said that of all forms of renewable energy, only offshore wind has the scale required to produce sufficient green hydrogen for it to play a major role decarbonising the Scottish economy.
Mr O’Brien cited figures from National Grid’s Future Gas 2018 report that estimated future green hydrogen demand for heat and power to be 330TWh per annum by 2050, approximately 30% of an overall figure for heat and power of 1,100TWh. The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy of 2017 describes a hydrogen pathway that requires even more hydrogen, around 700TWh by 2050.
“If we accept that future green hydrogen demand will be 330-350TWh per annum by 2050, then we would need 70-75 GW of dedicated offshore wind capacity for green hydrogen,” Mr O’Brien said, positing a scenario in which hydrogen demand by 2050 was met in part by blue hydrogen and partly by green hydrogen. This would be over and above the 75 GW of offshore wind that the Committee on Climate Change called for in its Net Zero report to decarbonise the UK electricity system.
Mr O’Brien agreed that 145 GW of offshore wind by 2050 might seem like a ‘huge ask’ but highlighted ongoing cost reduction in the industry and the fast-growing scale of projects and of offshore wind turbines as indicators of even greater potential UK offshore wind capacity than has been outlined hitherto.
Mr Holman said floating wind in Scottish waters would be the key to producing the huge amounts of green hydrogen required in the kind of decarbonisation scenarios outlined above. “Floating wind is an opportunity for developers to discuss offshore wind projects with multiple energy vectors,” he said. “These include bringing green power to land as electricity, via cables, or as hydrogen or ammonia, via pipelines.”
Wood plc director of innovation Alan Mortimer told the event that global hydrogen consumption is expected to grow rapidly, and that large-scale production of green hydrogen would need to target the lowest cost electricity resource if it is to be competitive with hydrogen derived from fossil fuels.
Mr Mortimer highlighted hydrogen’s ability to provide energy storage capacity on a large scale, “even up to seasonal timeframes” and the advantages of using curtailed energy from windfarms for hydrogen production. He agreed that offshore wind could provide the scale required for large-scale production of green hydrogen and said that whatever form of renewables is used, high load factors such as those associated with offshore wind would be required.
Riviera will host a week of free to attend 45-minute webinars focused on offshore wind commencing 8 June. Register your interest now
“Large-scale production of green hydrogen needs high quality renewable resources,” Mr Mortimer said. “Electricity costs will also be extremely important.” With a load factor of around 50% and rising, offshore wind has a potentially important role to play in the production of green hydrogen, he told the conference. “Green hydrogen could be competitive with hydrogen from stream methane reforming paired with carbon capture and storage in countries with cheap renewable energy.
“Offshore wind growth creates opportunities for green hydrogen. This is also advantageous for offshore wind because it can help overcome power grid limitations and the remoteness from shore of large-scale projects.”
But Mr Mortimer told the conference there are still technical challenges to address, including electrolyser marinization, the space required, production of fresh water to use in electrolysers and maintenance and logistics. Hydrogen export from offshore windfarms also needs to be addressed, he said, but like Mr Holman he sees potential for the use of shared infrastructure from oil and gas.
If these challenges can be overcome, Mr Mortimer explained, there is potential for a global market for green hydrogen from renewables of the type that has been established for liquefied natural gas, with hydrogen exported around the world in bulk in liquefied or pressurised formats.
“Clean hydrogen has key role to play in global decarbonisation,” he concluded. “Heat, transport and industry all stand to benefit from clean hydrogen, but large scale deployment is required to fully exploit hydrogen’s capabilities.
“That requires electrolyser cost reductions, the highest quality renewable resources, and cost-effective means of bulk shipping and transport. Scotland has a super-abundance of low cost wind onshore and offshore and is ideally positioned to serve industrial demand across Europe.”
Renewable hydrogen has a key role to play in the UK’s successful transition from fossil fuels to renewables, alongside a huge expansion of wind energy and other clean power sources, according to a new report published by RenewableUK.
In late May 2020, eight industry-leading companies, SolarPower Europe and WindEurope launched ‘Choose Renewable Hydrogen,’ a joint initiative highlighting the role of renewables to ensure a sound economic recovery, aligned with the European Green Deal.
On 27 May 2020, the European Commission launched its proposal for a post-Covid-19 recovery plan, a proposal with the European Green Deal and renewed emphasis on renewable energy such as wind, solar and green hydrogen at its heart.