Action and ambition will put Aberdeen and the North East at the heart of tackling climate change as part of a future global industry worth trillions, writes Energy Transition Programme Director at Opportunity North East (ONE), Martin McCormack.
The North East of Scotland is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the development of a new UK hydrogen economy, which according to the UK Hydrogen Task Force is expected to be worth more than £18bn per annum by 2035 while supporting 75,000 jobs.
Further, meeting a relatively modest target of producing 11 terawatt-hours of “blue” (produced from natural gas) and “green” (produced from renewable power) hydrogen by the middle of the next decade will cut significant greenhouse emissions from sectors including transport, heat and heavy industry.
The hydrogen journey forms part of a wider drive towards net zero by 2045 in Scotland and, by 2050, across the UK. Just this week we saw the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publish its landmark report, setting out a detailed roadmap for the net zero journey over the next three decades. The report has further highlighted the need for the expansion of low carbon energy supplies including hydrogen.
While the immediate focus is quite properly on addressing the climate emergency, in the longer term the development of a new hydrogen economy is about providing future generations with job security for a new energy supply.
Coalition of the willing
Success for the North East will only come with concerted effort, with UK and international rivals fighting for the ‘first mover’ crown.
We have a head start across transport and heat, thanks to a coalition of the willing, a meeting of like minds that includes new players working alongside established oil and gas companies, the renewable energy sector and innovative technology solution providers.
Other regional advantages include abundant offshore wind power, long term natural gas supplies, geology ideal for storing carbon dioxide, the skilled oil and gas workforce and expertise and experience in the emerging hydrogen sector. Significant projects at the forefront of the UK’s hydrogen transition are at an advanced stage, which includes:
Aberdeen City Council boasts a 65-strong fleet of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles which is due to expand this year including a world-first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus, while the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub, led by the City Council with partners ONE and Scottish Enterprise, aims to establish a commercial business delivering up to 3.5 tonnes of hydrogen per day for use by public and private vehicle fleets and potentially area rail networks.
North of Peterhead at the St Fergus facility, through which 35% of the UK’s natural gas supplies pass, Pale Blue Dot’s Acorn CCS and Hydrogen projects are designed to facilitate production of 50,000 tonnes per annum of blue hydrogen while storing CO2 offshore via repurposed gas infrastructure. The hydrogen produced would be transported via a dedicated pipeline, providing Aberdeen the potential to be the UK’s first 100% hydrogen-fuelled city.
And 20km offshore Aberdeen, ERM’s Dolphyn project will combine floating wind, desalination and electrolysis technologies to produce green hydrogen for export to shore. A 2MW prototype is due online in 2024 ahead of a 10MW demonstrator in 2027. Future field developments could be up to 300MW by 2030.
In anticipation of the hydrogen vision becoming a reality, ONE is currently working with partners and funders in industry, the public sector and both UK and Scottish governments to create an Energy Transition Zone near the Aberdeen Harbour Board’s £350m South Harbour development.
The exemplar net zero business environment will provide infrastructure to support a range of low carbon energy activities including hydrogen, providing a hub for inward investment, supply chain expansion, new advanced manufacturing opportunities and onshore support for offshore energy activities.
Of course it is not enough simply to produce hydrogen, demand across transport, heat and industrial sectors must progress in lockstep with supply if the first projects are to translate into the commercial opportunities so vital to a long-term sustainable economic model.
Successful trailblazers will spark further growth: marine transport solutions will be added alongside rail and road; the existing national gas network will over time shift to 100% hydrogen, displacing fossil fuels across domestic heat and industrial applications; the potential to export large volumes will emerge as hydrogen becomes an internationally traded commodity.
North East Scotland can contribute across all of these applications. The region boasts a pioneering position, has government support at all levels, and organisations such as ONE are actively working with partners to ensure key enabling projects progress in the short term.
The region’s ambition should not however stop there. Development of both blue and green hydrogen will provide long term large-scale clean energy supply, stimulate local demand and grow future export potential, all with an eye to the creation of a thriving hydrogen economy that will create new employment, retain core oil and gas skills, boost the regional economy and put the North East of Scotland firmly at the heart of the world’s hydrogen future.