The Wind Rises: What’s Going to Power EMEA’s Green Hydrogen Ambitions?
Green hydrogen is created when renewable energy is used to power hydrogen production. Green hydrogen can be used as zero-carbon fuel, feedstock and energy carrier, and as a method of energy storage; thus it has a potentially profound role in the drive to net zero. As a result, green hydrogen is a cornerstone of decarbonization strategies across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
Hydrogen is created by electrolysis, passing an electric current through an electrolyte to produce chemical reactions and decomposition of the materials. A wide range of electrolyzer technologies are available, “on a spectrum ranging from mature to very nascent,” according to a 2022 report by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. The report, Cost-competitive green hydrogen: how to lower the cost of electrolysers? found among many things that “Proton exchange membrane (PEM) (acidic) electrolysers currently represent the most suitable already available option for the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources into the power-to-hydrogen process.”
Any form of renewable energy can be used to provide the electricity for electrolyzing green hydrogen, with the most common in EMEA being on and offshore wind and solar. Hydrogen project developers and investors need confidence in the quality of the planning, engineering and construction support they receive. The most effective support will come from partners with expertise in hydrogen, renewable energy generation, and the complex interfaces between them that define current hydrogen projects – many of which are first-of-a-kind in terms of both technology combinations and location.
For Africa and the Middle East, solar is the most common form of renewables, and the rate of adoption continues apace. The UN’s Africa Renewal website has reported that, “Under favourable policy conditions, solar PV annual additions [in Africa] could reach a record level of 150 GW by 2022 – an increase of almost 40 per cent in just three years.” Onshore wind capacity is also increasing and has formidable prospects: 27 countries in Africa have enough wind potential to satisfy the entire continental electricity demand—estimated at 700 TWh annually, according to a 2020 study for IFC. With these resources comes the potential for significant green hydrogen production.
In EMEA’s northerly latitudes wind already holds sway, and is being incorporated into green hydrogen projects. The production of green hydrogen from electricity generated by offshore wind represents a significant opportunity in terms of decarbonization. Pairing offshore wind generation with electrolyzers engages a virtuous cycle of production, storage and dispatch.
This was evidenced in ScotWind - Crown Estate Scotland’s January 2022 auction of offshore wind seabed development rights - which saw 25 GW of new projects awarded. The successful bidders included the Total, GIG and RIDG 2 GW West of Orkney wind farm, which is set to power the Flotta Hydrogen Hub on Orkney. There was also a green hydrogen component to BP and EnBW’s successful 2.9-GW project bid. As well as projects using offshore wind to power onshore electrolyzers to generate green hydrogen the North Sea is also home to pilot schemes investigating the feasibility of undertaking electrolysis at source – at the offshore windfarm.
The PosHYdon pilot project will see electricity generated by offshore wind arrays powering an electrolyzer on Neptune Energy’s Q13a oil and gas platform, 13 kilometres off the Dutch coast. The 1-MW electrolyzer will produce a maximum of 400 kilogrammes of green hydrogen per day.
Alongside RWE, Neptune is also a partner in the H2opZee demonstration project, which aims to build 300-500 MW of offshore wind powered electrolyzers in the North Sea by 2030.
While the approach to offshore generation of green hydrogen being pioneered by PosHYdon and H2opZee uses separate wind arrays and electrolyzer assets, Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy are developing an integrated turbine and electrolyzer system capable of directly producing green hydrogen. The system is based upon Siemens Gamesa’s SG12-222 DD offshore turbine, with full-scale offshore demonstration expected by 2026.
Floating wind: a sea change?
Floating offshore wind infrastructure, which is not restricted to shallow waters so can be developed further out to sea, is able to capture more powerful and reliable winds. This offers the potential for greater predictability, and volumes, of green hydrogen production; using both on an offshore electrolyzation. The Dylan project is piloting the latter, with a combination of electrolysis, desalination and hydrogen production on a floating wind platform being developed in the Celtic Sea.
ScotWind provided strong signals of floating offshore wind’s potential, accounting for 60 percent of the total capacity awarded – 15 GW of the total 25 GW; and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) forecasts that European countries will account for two-thirds of the world’s floating wind capacity additions during the second half of this decade. Morocco is among the other EMEA states identified by the GWEC as having significant floating wind potential. Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Somalia and Oman are among other EMEA countries which offer great potential for fixed and floating offshore wind – and by extension the ability to develop the production of green hydrogen using offshore wind.
Successfully utilising offshore wind, fixed or floating, for the production of green hydrogen requires the expertise in - and integration of – a diverse range of technologies and disciplines. Ideally developers and owners need a partner with not just fixed and floating off-shore wind technology experience, but one able to augment that with – for example – knowing how a full understanding of using site-specific metocean data can deliver more accurate levelized cost of energy forecasting. The most effective support for a project’s business goals will come from organizations able to couple these disciplines with similarly comprehensive expertise in the fields of hydrogen electrolysis, desalination, marine structures and marine power transmission and, crucially, how to make all of these elements work in concert in a hostile marine environment.
It is a similar picture for developers and owners of green hydrogen projects using solar or onshore wind. Technical understanding of the renewable energy source needs to come hand-in-glove with hydrogen electrolysis capabilities and an understanding of how to use the renewable energy to greatest effect. With solar projects for example engineering knowhow needs to be accompanied by the ability to assess net present value and initial rate of return to model the levelized cost of energy for the entire asset lifecycle.