Using the natural energy resources of the planet in a sustainable way is what the promotion of renewable energy is all about.
Scotland has a wealth of resources that can and should be developed to serve our country – wind power (both on and offshore), wave power; tidal stream, hydro, wood fuel and even solar.
But if we are to maximise the benefits from these resources, we need a way of storing that energy, to match when it is produced and when it is needed.
We require a mechanism that is flexible, and that can apply to the energy sectors of electricity, heat and transport. That mechanism is renewable hydrogen.
“Put simply, the electricity produced from Scotland’s renewable resources can be used to electrolyse water, so producing hydrogen fuel that can then be used for a multitude of purposes, says Todd.
“And Aberdeen has the ambition and skills to become a world-class centre in this technology, and act as a demonstrator for others to follow.”
There are a number of issues to be considered – the production of the hydrogen; its potential use in transport systems; other uses – such as heating buildings; and the implications for grid management on the north-east of Scotland.
Dealing firstly with the production side, the obvious choice of energy source is wind energy, which is abundant in Scotland. The storage of wind energy as hydrogen fuel allows a number of issues to be dealt with effectively:
o As wind is intermittent, it allows a better match between supply and demand.
o In times of excess wind, it allows storage of that energy, rather than compensating windfarms to switch off in such circumstances.
o For areas where there is wind resource but no suitable grid connection, it allows wind development in these areas. The future could see a hydrogen collection service being developed, subject to a suitable solution being devised . . . perhaps tankers. This is a major opportunity for Aberdeen City and Shire to work together on this technology.
On the transport side, plans are under development with industrial partners to introduce a number of hydrogen-fuelled buses to the city in 2013.
This would be the first deployment of such buses in Scotland, and only the second in the UK (the first being a large trial in London).
These buses would not only run on renewable fuel, they would bring major air quality improvements in the city centre – the only emissions from these buses are water vapour.
According to Todd, the city has been successful in attracting EU finance to assist with the purchase of these new vehicles.
This would be a close match with developments in Germany, where a number of cities have installed hydrogen refuelling stations and are starting to operate small fleets of hydrogen buses.
The associated hydrogen refuelling station would allow other vehicle fleets operating in the city to move over to hydrogen.
The city then has the opportunity to, for example, convert a number of its own pool vehicles to run on this new fuel, so gaining experience of the new technology. Link-ups will also be sought with other fleet operators in the city.
“Transport would not be the only outlet for the new energy source of hydrogen,” says Todd. “The fuel could be used to heat buildings, and the city should act as a demonstrator in this regard.
“The most exciting prospect would be for the UK to consider – as they are in Germany and China – the introduction of a small percentage . . . say 10% . . . of hydrogen to the gas grid for the whole city.
“This would be a pioneering exemplar – transforming the whole city heating to 10% renewables at a single stroke.
“Such a move would, however, have to gain appropriate regulatory approvals and would no doubt take some time to agree.
“But it is a development in which the whole world would take a close interest, and well-befitting a city at the cutting edge of energy issues. The introduction of a Renewable Hydrogen Hub in Aberdeen would also be an important opportunity for our engineering supply chain – the skills of project management; engineering and environmental assessment will be in high demand.”
Another exciting consequence of an infrastructure that can store hydrogen relates to the management of the power grid in an area.
Energy storage allows a more sophisticated approach to be taken to grid management, which can have important benefits in terms of improved efficiency both for operating the system, and the need for capital investment to enhance its flexibility.
This year’s All Energy Conference and Exhibition, here in Aberdeen on May 23-24, will be addressing these issues from a number of angles.
The subject of hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism will be one of the subjects addressed at the Chamber of Commerce business breakfast on May 23. There will also be sessions in the conference on hydrogen and on sustainable transport.
There will also be a number of hydrogen vehicles on demonstration at the show.
“Watch this space. Hydrogen is coming to Aberdeen, in a major way,” Todd adds.