Large-scale hydrogen storage can enable the rise of renewables while bringing benefits to local authorities, transport companies and electricity suppliers.
Hydrogen and the future of green energy
Decarbonising transport is high on the agenda for many city councils and local authorities, and hydrogen powered vehicles are increasingly seen as an attractive option. They offer similar range to their petrol or diesel equivalents, and, when the hydrogen is produced by electrolysis powered by renewables, are entirely emissions free. But when hydrogen transport is combined with large-scale storage, it can play a much bigger role in cutting carbon emissions.
According to the National Grid Future Energy Scenario, the UK needs to increase its capacity for renewable generation by about 100GW to reach its target of net zero by 2050. That’s about double the capacity that was in place at the end of 2019. But the more we rely on renewable sources of energy, the harder it is for electricity suppliers to balance supply and demand. This is where large scale hydrogen storage facilities come in. By storing surplus energy, they can help to balance the grid – a win-win situation for all parties.
Using electrolysis, hydrogen can act as a very cost-effective energy store for surplus renewable generation. An electrolyser can be switched on and off very quickly to help balance the grid. It also has a long discharge time, particularly when stored at scale, which makes it a natural choice to complement other storage technologies – battery and pumped storage hydro.
The versatility of hydrogen technology brings benefits to everyone involved. The UK grid increases its flexibility, while hydrogen storage facility owners gain financial incentives for providing grid balancing services. Producing hydrogen at scale reduces its cost as a fuel. Society benefits from lower transport emissions and reduced carbon emissions as renewable energy becomes more viable.
While the initial investment required for hydrogen storage infrastructure is high, it becomes feasible for city councils and local authorities when looking at hydrogen as the fuel for a transport hub.
When cities are able to commit to fleets of 50-100 vehicles or more, the economics of hydrogen refuelling change dramatically. Driving up demand for large volumes of hydrogen opens the door to different investment models, including the option to have BOC fund the capital cost of
the refuelling station. This removes one of the biggest barriers to councils developing hydrogen infrastructure and frees up capital to invest in vehicles.
One of the best examples of this is the Kittybrewster refuelling station in Aberdeen. BOC worked with Aberdeen City Council to develop and install a tailored, state-of-the-art hydrogen refuelling station at Kittybrewster. The facility produces green hydrogen from electrolysis on site for use by the council to refuel a fleet of buses, service vehicles and cars.
With an expanding fleet of hydrogen buses and other vehicles, Aberdeen City is starting to reap the rewards of hydrogen as a transport fuel. And, with the potential to provide energy storage and grid balancing services in the future, there are opportunities to develop the role of hydrogen even further.