Offshore wind and hydrogen

At first sight, the proposition of the industrial-scale production of hydrogen – with all the challenges inherent in converting air to gas at sea, and all the hazards, difficulties and dangers of working in such a hostile environment – may appear fanciful.

However, there are good reasons why the combination of offshore wind with the production of hydrogen in the sea or at sea may be a very smart idea indeed.

I was formerly project manager of the Islay offshore wind farm. At the time, at 690MW it was one of the largest in the world. We constantly strove to look for innovation, including the incorporation of floating offshore wind combined with wind and wave devices and synergies with other technologies. Islay is back in an enlarged form in the ScotWind leasing round and the grid challenges we addressed may leave an opportunity for the consideration of combining hydrogen production for some of the offtake at least.

In recent years, offshore wind has been a remarkable success story; in the UK, the world leader, around 10 gigawatts is now deployed and operational. Offshore costs have plummeted. Some of the Contracts for Difference Auctions saw bids of under £40 per megawatt hour so helping keep the electricity costs for UK consumers under control.

Offshore wind price reductions startled the world energy markets and led other countries to enter the fray including Norway, Holland, South Korea, and Japan. Almost daily, it seems, nations announce their entry into the offshore wind market.

These reductions in costs are primarily driven by an increase in turbine size and capacity as the industry moved from the boutique to the industrial. Familiarity with the inevitable infrastructure hurdles has led to a reduction in the cost of money itself.

When creating hydrogen from wind, more energy goes into production than comes out, and, whilst this seems counterintuitive it is already happening within the energy industry, for example with hydropower. So, with hydrogen’s ability to provide power when it is needed, there may be a good argument for using energy-hungry technology such as electrolysis to make hydrogen, utilising the overspill from offshore wind.

One of the constraints for offshore wind has been the necessity for access to the electrical grid – but the move to hydrogen may remove this – so redefining the very nature of a wind farm. In addition, hydrogen production can utilise existing installations such as reusable gas or oil assets; for example, I am currently advising on the potential of incorporating an electrolyser into an oil and gas platform.

Hydrogen itself comes in a variety of forms, most commonly, a liquid or a gas and can be distributed and delivered to the consumer using existing technologies adapted from the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry.

Initial costs, certainly for the early adopters will be enormous. But, as we are seeing with the mega-projects already mooted, including the Shell backed PosHYdon Groningen scheme, elements are starting to link together, with projects dubbed, rather splendidly, as ‘air to gas’, in this case, the gas being not methane but hydrogen.

Europe is leading the charge but cannot claim exclusivity. There is a major project planned for Taranaki in New Zealand, with others mentioned in various hydrogen strategies relating to both on Dutch and German waters along with the UK which seeks to retain its world leadership.

I notice a change in attitude on behalf of the leasing body and the UK Crown Estate from Round 4 meetings two years ago, when hydrogen production in UK waters was first proposed. A far more flexible approach is emerging, with possibility of reduced fees for projects containing hydrogen elements making them more attractive to developers.

This week, we have seen a world first as offshore wind and hydrogen are combined in a development off the coast of Aberdeen, where it has been announced that a consortium including South Korean company Doosan and Norwegian electrolyser company NEL will be making hydrogen using floating wind turbines. There is already a well-performing floating wind farm at Buchan deeps nearby, demonstrating that the area is suitable for this innovative technology; I will track the project and share developments as they emerge.

Europe is considering a distribution network which may be built around a network of pipelines (see below).

In coming years, we can anticipate many more combinations of offshore wind and hydrogen especially with the siting flexibility afforded by floating wind. The European hydrogen strategy will ensure a market exists and therefore will support deployment. Hydrogen and offshore wind will form an increasing part of the leasing rounds and will be moving from the current development stage into construction and operation creating myriad opportunities for training and employment. The hydrogen economy from offshore wind is happening and we need to be ready. Don’t be left behind – join over 1400 companies and thought-leaders at the offshore wind and hydrogen professionals group: