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Hydrogen and Wind Energy: The role of green hydrogen in Ireland’s energy transition
- Jan 30, 2022 1:18 pm GMT
The concept of a hydrogen-based economy was first suggested by General Motors in 1970. The idea has seen renewed attention in recent years driven by the increasing pressures of climate change and a lack of suitable low carbon alternatives in difficult to decarbonise sectors. Long term hydrogen strategies have now been published by Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
Following COP26, the green hydrogen targets in several of these strategies are now being revised upwards. With Ireland’s own strategy currently in development, a review of the national situation is timely. This report concludes that a definite role for green hydrogen in Ireland’s energy transition has been secured by technology trends, economics, and regional political will. However, early developments will be constrained by a lack of an existing domestic market for large quantities of hydrogen. We are at a disadvantage to countries such as Germany and Norway where there is the availability of both low-cost renewable electricity to produce, and significant existing industrial demand to consume, large quantities of hydrogen.
There are two distinct opportunities for the stimulation of near-term domestic hydrogen demand in Ireland. Such early markets are vital if we are to be positioned to supply future high demand sectors such as power generation, aviation fuel, shipping fuel and a potentially vast export market. The first domestic opportunity is hydrogen injection into existing natural gas pipelines where a blend of up to 20% is considered technically achievable. Meeting this demand in Ireland would require c. 4.2 GW of wind energy generation dedicated to the production of green hydrogen.
Whilst long term it is projected that natural gas demand will fall due to increased electrification, pipeline injection is our leading option to rapidly stimulate a domestic hydrogen market. Secondly, increased demand can be achieved at the only significant existing domestic user of hydrogen, the Whitegate refinery in Cork. This facility processes c. 40% of national liquid fuel demand and has been both producing and utilising hydrogen in the refining process since 1959. Part of the facility’s existing hydrogen demand is for the production of hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) and Fatty Acid Methyl Este (FAME), biofuels which can replace or be blended with fossil diesel. To increase green hydrogen demand at the facility, close consultation with the operators is critical to overcome technical and regulatory barriers to allow the rapid increase of biofuel production up to and beyond the Climate Action Plan target of 20% by 2030. Low carbon transport fuels are the first markets where hydrogen can compete directly with fossil fuels. As such, the Whitegate facility is expected to be central to the early development of Ireland’s green hydrogen economy and it is important that existing expertise and infrastructure are leveraged. Whilst focusing on the domestic market pre-2030 may be seen as lacking ambition, it should be noted that the potential scale of this market is significant. If just heavy goods vehicles and buses were to switch from diesel to green hydrogen it would require at least 1.4 GW of dedicated wind energy generation. Synthesising just 50% of shipping and aviation fuels would require a further 6.6 GW.
The construction of the required wind farms and the electrolysis alone would require an investment of c. €18.4 bn, resulting in the generation of approximately 16,000 direct and a further 32,000 indirect jobs. Currently, talent gaps and employment opportunities related to green hydrogen are primarily related to energy systems modelling, planning and the analysis of energy / carbon regulations. Our stakeholder survey indicates that as the industry develops, we will see significant employment opportunities in construction and skilled technical roles. Long term employment opportunities will be found in the operation of facilities along with the provision of services and expertise to the global green hydrogen industry. By focusing on near term opportunities and working with the existing hydrogen expertise at our disposal, Ireland has the potential to be a leader in green hydrogen utilisation. Reducing our carbon footprint, building energy security, and providing long term sustainable employment opportunities.
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