To achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the UK by the year 2050, it will be necessary to look at how high levels of renewable sources can be integrated into the wider energy system… including how offshore wind can be utilised to deliver innovative solutions to this very pressing problem, such as wind to hydrogen.
This is where the Gigastack project comes in, putting the focus firmly on renewable hydrogen as an energy source. Offshore wind has already proven to be very helpful indeed in the decarbonising of our electricity system but for the country to become entirely green, further solutions must now be found.
The government’s five-yearly carbon budgets should result in an 80 per cent drop in carbon emissions by 2050 compared to the levels seen in 1990 - and these targets are legally binding. The Climate Change Act was also recently amended to commit the UK to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But, as the Committee on Climate Change has confirmed, we are not on track to hit the fourth or the fifth carbon budgets… so it’s becoming increasingly important to investigate new energy technology as time goes on.
In the past, hydrogen production has been associated with high carbon emissions but the process can, be made carbon-free if electrolysis powered by renewable energy is used. You can create renewable hydrogen by using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with the former then collected and used, and the oxygen released as a by-product (unless there is a local need for it). This splitting process is known as electrolysis.
A feasibility study on the Gigastack was recently carried out by Orsted, ITM Power and Element Energy.
“Hydrogen production by electrolysis is a technology with great potential and this Gigastack project is an important step forward as we look to reduce costs and make green hydrogen a viable solution for the energy transformation,” he went on to add.
The company believes that with the right kind of investment and ongoing research, it’s possible that renewable hydrogen could become widely available, a low cost and realistic part of a future green energy system.
Hydrogen has serious potential and a big part to play in a net zero carbon Europe, with the ability to address both the short-term need for slowing greenhouse gas emissions and the need for a long-term solution to the issues involved with storing large amounts of energy over a prolonged period. And it can be used in all energy sectors - for transport, industry, heat and power generation.
IHS Markit explains that gas infrastructure companies, energy suppliers, government and consumers are all now looking into the advantages of hydrogen.
And increasing public awareness while introducing new policy measures could encourage the development of the gas in order to transform the energy industry and make use of the natural gas infrastructure that’s already in place, while hitting zero carbon targets over the long term.
The Gigastack project isn’t the only one of its kind in the world investigating the benefits and possibilities of renewable hydrogen. The Tasmanian government, for example, has just announced that it will be investing $50 million to drive the development of a hydrogen energy industry, with the goal being to set up a renewable hydrogen generation facility by 2022-2024.
Potential hydrogen industry hubs have been identified as Bell Bay in the north and Burnie in the north-west. Energy minister Guy Barnett explained that a 1,000MW renewable energy facility would provide enough power for a million households, while creating between 1,000 and 1,200 local jobs and supporting further renewable energy investment across the state.
And over in Queensland, two new projects in Gladstone are set to get underway, targeting opportunities in the domestic supply of zero carbon gas and an emerging export market.
A new renewable hydrogen production hub will produce renewable hydrogen as a zero carbon gas but also to support the production of ammonia. The hope is that the project will give exports of both a significant boost, with renewable hydrogen set to supply the domestic heating, industrial and transport sectors.
Gladstone has long served as a hub for the fossil fuel export industry in Australia, home to substantial coal and export facilities. It is seen as the ideal location for renewable hydrogen production because of the existing infrastructure in the region.
Back in the UK, the government is also supporting other renewable hydrogen projects through the Hydrogen Supply Competition, which is now in its second phase.
Dolphyn, led by Environmental Resources Management, was recently awarded a contract of £3.12 million, investigating the production of hydrogen at scale from offshore floating wind in deep water. Offshore wind power is combined with seawater to produce hydrogen that can then be sent straight to shore.
And then there’s Progressive Energy’s HyNet, a low carbon hydrogen plant with tech that enables carbon capture and storage, which could lower the cost of low carbon hydrogen by more than 20 per cent.
Funding of £7.48 million will permit further development of the project, including engineering design to deliver a shovel-ready project. This technology has formed the basis for the BEIS and the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis.
A further £2.7 million has been made available for the Acorn Hydrogen Project, which aims to evaluate and develop an advanced reformation process to deliver an energy and cost-efficient process for the production of hydrogen from North Sea Gas, while also capturing the associated CO2 emissions in order to prevent climate change.