A quiet revolution is taking place across the Highlands of Scotland, as a drive towards a green hydrogen economy is leading the decarbonisation of the transportation of goods across the region.
The production of green hydrogen is widely supported. The UK government has allocated a £240 million support package to produce hydrogen as a clean, low-cost energy source and the Scottish Government is committing £100 million towards the development of a local hydrogen economy over the next five years as part of its Hydrogen Action Plan.
Following an agreement with Highland Council, Getech and its fully owned subsidiary H2Green, are pioneering that ambition across the north of Scotland by building a green hydrogen network aimed at removing emissions from transport systems, particularly for rail, buses, heavy goods and long-distance vehicles.
The first phase in Inverness will begin production and distribution in 2025.
At full capacity it will produce 8 tonnes of hydrogen a day, enough to provide a day’s power for between 250-400 HGVs and buses or 30 trains, displacing the equivalent of 43,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Phase two will see Inverness distribute to a wider number of sites. Phase three will see production introduced across more locations.
Commitment from various levels of government, along with extensive private sector funding has been crucial to kick-start this new economy.
With the hydrogen supply chain in hand, now it’s time to focus on the demand side of the equation.
Our experience, from talking to transportation and industry sectors suggests there is currently a great deal of latent demand for green hydrogen – hampered by the lack of availability of green hydrogen, but also the availability and cost of vehicles.
We see vehicle production capacity ramping up steeply at a global, scale. A report just published by Future Market Insights, for example, is predicting a staggering 67% increase in the hydrogen bus market over the next decade.
The reports say the surge, which will see the industry’s estimated value rise from £8.45 billion to £1426 billion, is being led by concerns over the depletion of natural resources and the ongoing damage to the environment.
With such a rich prize on offer, it will be countries with the strongest incentive schemes that will corner the market and secure supplies.
And while costs fall (as they are projected to do) governments need to help operators secure the vehicles and technology they need by supporting the cost of early adoption in markets such as heavy goods vehicles, buses and medium-sized vehicles.
A recent report from the Energy Industries Council (EIC) suggested that while hydrogen production capacity could reach 150 million tonnes by 2030, there will only be demand for 115 million tonnes.
However, this is not a case of like-for-like.
The report primarily highlights the risk to mega-scale projects where investors want to see evidence of demand before pushing the button on major investments.
Smaller to medium scale projects such as our H2 Green site which sit within the 5-25MW range have a major advantage in that we serve localised demand and scale our capacity accordingly.
Infrastructure availability is always going to need to be ahead of demand, but we need to balance the scales so that demand for what is an affordable option can be accelerated.
If we look back at the early days of electric and hybrid vehicles, they were expensive because they hadn’t yet reached economy of scale.
We are now in the same position with today’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The rise in the number of hydrogen buses across the country is beginning to gain economies of scale in that sector but it will take a number of years for other classes of vehicles such as trains, cars and HGVs to catch up.
Governments must now be bold. Individual pots of funding with highly uncertain chances of successful bids cannot deliver the stimulus to adoption that we need.
Officials need to focus on driving demand as well as infrastructure, introducing standardised subsidies across the market to stimulate consumer demand, and easing the way for hydrogen suitable vehicles to make that transition.
Countries such as Germany are already doing this. The government is providing subsidies based on the retail cost differential between fuel cell trucks and their diesel equivalent.
They believe this subsidy will only be required for about a decade. Now investment is flowing into national infrastructure and Germany has the highest number of hydrogen fuel cell patents in Europe.
If the UK is to meet our hydrogen potential and seize our economic opportunity, we must look at introducing similar measures.
Hydrogen, battery and electric-powered vehicles all perform similarly in terms of emission reduction, the big differentiator is cost.
Remove the cost factor and consumers will be the driving force in making decisions on how best they will take their renewable journey forward.
After cost, consumer preferences are driven by convenience, performance – and brand perception, the latter now being addressed by the entry of BMW, VW, and the announcement of fuel cell prototypes for iconic 4x4s such as the Toyota Hilux and Land Rover Defender being developed.
Arguably, convenience carries the most weight, and to many, that’s all about refuelling time.
A hydrogen vehicle can be refuelled in minutes, taking no longer than it does to fill up with petrol – an EV or hybrid vehicle takes considerably longer to charge, requiring behavioural change and larger space dedicated to charges.
Last month, the Scottish Government published its final Hydrogen Action Plan which sets out the framework for how it will continue to commit to this cost-effective, clean and renewable source of energy.
It has also put greater focus on the export of hydrogen and the actions it will take to build up trade. With the expertise and knowledge being generated across the Highlands, we are well-placed to support that.