Scotland is one of the leading UK home nations when it comes to transitioning to clean hydrogen and renewables from fossil fuels to address climate change. That’s also an ambition for Northern Ireland with Shoosmiths supporting Hydrogen NI, established to represent organisations with an interest in developing NI’s clean hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen NI represents an opportunity for Northern Ireland to take advantage of its levels of renewable electricity, mostly produced by wind power, to make clean hydrogen. For the 12-month period January 2020 to December 2020, 49.2% of total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland was generated from renewable sources.
John Palmer, partner based in Shoosmiths Belfast office, is a regular speaker at industry events including the 2019 Irish Bioenergy Association Conference at Croke Park, Dublin. He also provides specialised in-house training to a number of financial institutions in the funding of renewable energy projects. John comments:
“Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to use its high levels of wind energy to create clean hydrogen; and has the skilled workforce required to develop world-leading expertise across all areas of the hydrogen economy. If Northern Ireland can continue to innovate and position itself as a global leader in the drive towards decarbonisation it will result in significant foreign direct investment and create thousands of sustainable jobs. The UK Government expects hydrogen to deliver up to £4bn of private investment by 2030; while the EU believes investments in renewable hydrogen in Europe can reach €470bn by 2050.”
But it’s Scotland that seems to be attracting most of the projects and investment at present.
- Aberdeen City Council has launched the hunt for a partner to help it build a £215million green hydrogen production hub, billed as the first “commercially scalable” and “investible” site of its kind, to serve the city’s housing, heating and transport systems. The Council has agreed in principle to find £19.4m of the overall price tag of £215m from its capital programme for the project which it hopes to be up and running by 2024.
- Anglo-Californian partnership Ways2H has announced plans to roll out as many as 40 waste-to-hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK, starting in a yet to be specified location in Scotland. Ways2H recycles municipal solid waste, plastic, sewage sludge and other refuse in a process that converts the waste into a gas and extracts hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles or power generators.
- Renewable hydrogen firm Protium Green Solutions has announced plans to expand its footprint north of the border following ongoing work including a study to assess the feasibility of using green hydrogen in the production of whisky at the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay.
- A joint project between UK firm Storegga and Canadian company Carbon Engineering in the north east of Scotland involves the construction of a large Direct Air Capture (DAC) facility. The proposed plant would remove up to one million tonnes of CO2 every year - the same amount taken up by around 40 million trees. A feasibility study has already been carried out and if everything goes well, the facility would be operational by 2026.
So why all this green investment and activity north of the border?
Barry McKeown, real estate partner and head of Shoosmiths Glasgow office has experience in the energy sector across many core technology areas including onshore wind, PV, hydro, energy from waste as well as biomass and biogas projects. He points to Scotland’s increasing reliance on renewable energy sources as an advantage:
“Provisional figures from the Scottish government indicate that in 2020 the equivalent of 97.4% of Scotland's gross electricity consumption was from renewable sources, falling just short of the 100% by 2020 renewable target, so there is an abundant existing clean energy source for the production of green hydrogen.”
James Wood-Robertson, partner who heads up Shoosmiths Infrastructure and Energy practice, suggests it’s also the inheritance from the North Sea oil industry that makes Scotland such an attractive location:
“North sea oil has left a legacy of the skills needed to build and operate such hydrogen and carbon capture facilities. The geographic advantage of being close to transport and storage infrastructure to move captured carbon offshore via pipelines going out under the sea to allow permanent burial is also appealing to investors and companies.”
Both agree that these ambitious plans show the viability of green hydrogen as well as an increasing appetite for the fuel from the public and private sector. The potential for clean hydrogen and DAC to attract inward investment and provide environmental and employment benefits in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular is huge.
However, Wood-Robertson adds:
“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if the world wants to stay safe, then the rise in global temperatures needs to be kept below 1.5C by the end of this century. In 2020 temperatures were already 1.2C above the historical level. Technological fixes such as green hydrogen and DAC can make a contribution, but we still also need to make sure we reduce emissions as fast as possible as much as possible.”