Why it's time to power the hydrogen economy

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Why It's Time To Power The Hydrogen Economy Why It's Time To Power The Hydrogen Economy
Green hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity to turn water into hydrogen and differs fundamentally from black or blue hydrogen which are based on natural gas
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Leading Irish utility and Ireland’s largest energy provider, ESB, has set an ambitious course of action to help Ireland achieve its climate action targets, by driving the transition to reliable, affordable, zero carbon energy.

Green hydrogen will play a key part in achieving this. Our offshore wind potential can be harnessed to create green hydrogen, a clean fuel source which can be stored. Green hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity to turn water into hydrogen and differs fundamentally from black or blue hydrogen which are based on natural gas.

“It is difficult for us to envisage a viable and secure integrated zero-carbon energy system in Ireland without green hydrogen,” says Jim Dollard, ESB executive director generation and trading.

Jim Dollard, ESB executive director, generation and trading

ESB believes that to achieve a net zero integrated energy system in Ireland, four key elements need to be put in place. These are renewables, hydrogen production, hydrogen subsea storage and back-up green hydrogen-fuelled electricity generation which produces zero carbon emissions.

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The four key elements that need to be in place to achieve a net zero integrated energy system in Ireland

Increased electrification powered by renewables and zero carbon generation will remove the need for fossil fuels in many areas of our lives, for example, how we heat our homes and how we transport ourselves and our goods across the country.

Green Hydrogen will also provide an energy source for back-up electricity generation at times when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun isn’t shining

“Green hydrogen will provide an energy source for back-up dispatchable electricity generation at times when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun isn’t shining,” he adds.
Green hydrogen will also be able to decarbonise those sectors of the economy that are not suited to electrification, such as heavy goods vehicles, aviation, shipping, and high temperature industrial applications.

Hydrogen 101

But what is hydrogen? “From our school days we remember that water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen atoms. or H2O ” he explains.

Electrolysis is a process that uses electricity to separate hydrogen from oxygen. The resulting hydrogen is stored, and the oxygen can either be released safely into the atmosphere or stored for industrial applications.

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy. A typical single wind turbine of 3 MW size delivering power to an electrolyser will produce approximately 50kg of green hydrogen in one hour, enough to power a fuel cell-operated hydrogen bus for around 450 km.

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“If the hydrogen is stored underground, it can be retrieved later when wind levels are low, and either be used to power a hydrogen gas turbine or to run a fuel cell to generate electricity,” he explains.

“The fuel cell is the reverse of the electrolysis process and brings the hydrogen back together with oxygen from the air to produce water again – delivering clean electricity in the process. The only by-product from that process is pure water.”

A need for energy storage at scale

But all this future hydrogen will require storage. “Energy storage needs are likely to be significantly greater in Ireland’s future energy system due to the intermittency and seasonality of wind and solar resources,” explains Dollard.

“Ireland will require increased seasonal levels of zero carbon energy storage to provide energy security and continuity of supply that is independent of fossil fuels. We have significant offshore wind potential, and it is important that we develop storage for the green hydrogen produced from this future offshore wind. This requires geological solutions to store green hydrogen in the same way that we store natural gas underground today.”

It is important that we develop storage for the green hydrogen produced from offshore wind

“This could be in underground caverns such as in the depleted gas fields at Kinsale or in salt caverns developed in the sub-seabed off the Irish coast. If you consider the Kinsale Head reservoirs, they safely, reliably and securely hosted natural gas in offshore subsurface storage for many years,” says Dollard.

EU power

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The EU published its RePowerEU strategy in May 2022, which includes a range of measures to end the Union’s dependence on all fossil fuels and to tackle the climate crisis.

It effectively doubles the existing hydrogen target for 2030, setting a target of 10 million tonnes of domestic renewable hydrogen production and 10 million tonnes of imports by 2030.

When it comes to wind resources, Ireland has a significant geographic advantage. High average wind speeds and a large offshore continental shelf mean Irish offshore wind potential coupled with green hydrogen production is of strategic importance at EU level.
The majority of EU Member States have published national hydrogen strategies, outlining their vision for the production and use of hydrogen, and the mechanisms to support investment in hydrogen. In Ireland, the government issued a Hydrogen strategy consultation earlier this year and is considering the responses at present.

ESB making a difference

ESB’s strategy, Driven to Make a Difference: Net Zero by 2040, sets out a clear roadmap.

ESB will develop and connect renewable energy to decarbonise the electricity system by 2040. It will invest in the development of new renewable generation, including onshore and offshore wind and solar to deliver more than a five-fold increase in its renewable generation portfolio to 5,000MW. It will look to transition its dispatchable electricity generation from being fuelled using natural gas to green hydrogen to provide the zero-carbon backup.

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“ESB’s early-stage hydrogen projects, our so-called lighthouse innovation projects, will demonstrate, in a practical way, the potential of hydrogen in hard-to-electrify sectors where no feasible decarbonisation alternative exists. These projects span transport, industry, data centre power backup, hydrogen storage and zero carbon dispatchable generation,” he explains.

“The aim of these projects is to understand how best to grow Ireland’s green hydrogen sector into an integrated energy system covering production, storage and use of hydrogen.”

Incentivising investment

In building the wider hydrogen economy it will however be necessary to incentivise the development of the green hydrogen sector.

“Ireland’s highly anticipated hydrogen strategy should introduce mechanisms to promote hydrogen production and hydrogen demand,” says Dollard. “Government supports will be important in the early days, as they were with wind and solar, until they become viable, he says. “Until such time as green hydrogen production costs reduce, early investors will need some form of support to de-risk investment in green hydrogen production. This should be awarded in a competitive process to ensure value.”

Recent announcements increasing Ireland’s offshore wind target to 7GW provide a strong signal to industry participants of the level of development required to meet our climate goals.

“We must look to develop Atlantic offshore wind in the western and southern coasts before 2030. However, targets beyond 2030 will be key to allow Ireland to attract the level of supply chains that will be required to support an integrated net-zero energy system,” says Dollard.

In the early years, while green hydrogen is still a rare resource, a hierarchy of use based on its contribution to decarbonisation is necessary, he argues. “Any support mechanisms must incentivise its use in sectors which have no viable alternative to achieve decarbonisation.”

Similar to the approach being adopted across the EU, the identification of specific renewable energy and hydrogen clusters will assist in developing demand. ESB believes that there should be clusters located in Dublin, Cork Harbour and the Shannon Estuary – and ESB is developing plans for each.

“The EU has established ambitious targets for industry decarbonisation. The hydrogen ecosystem will be critical for Ireland to meet these targets and deliver energy security of supply independent of fossil fuels.”

Click here to read more about renewable energy at ESB

H2Irl 2022, the first Hydrogen Ireland Conference takes place at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dublin on Tuesday, November 22nd and Wednesday, November 23rd

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