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The role of hydrogen in the energy mix

09 December 2020
Written by Luca Corradi

On 30 November 2020, OGTC and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult published ‘Reimagining a Net Zero North Sea’ – a report detailing three scenarios for a North Sea which will sustain jobs, diversify the supply chain, evolve into a broader integrated energy system and realise a new net zero future for the UK.

The report describes an Integrated Energy Vision, which includes a key role for hydrogen – both ‘blue’ and ‘green’. Green hydrogen is produced from renewables and seen as a sustainable long-term solution, whilst blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas with associated carbon capture and storage and will be a ‘bridging technology’ in establishing a hydrogen economy and network in the next 20 to 30 years.

Why hydrogen?

Hydrogen will be needed to meet the UK’s net zero obligations. It has the potential to decarbonise ‘hard to abate’ sectors such as heavy industry and heavy transport (such as shipping, heavy goods vehicles and aviation) which are not easily electrifiable.

The UK has 28 million homes, 85% of which are connected to the gas network with many not suited for electrification. Hydrogen has the potential to be an alternative fuel for some of the UKs housing stock.

Scottish Gas Network’s (SGN) H100 project team are currently developing a world-first hydrogen network in Levenmouth that will bring 100% renewable hydrogen into 300 homes in 2022, providing zero-carbon fuel for heating and cooking. 

How much hydrogen?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) predicts hydrogen demand in the UK to reach 270 TWh by 2050. For comparison, the UK currently produces around 27 TWh each year, so significant upscaling is needed.

What does hydrogen mean for the economy?

As well as being a contributor towards decarbonising hard to abate parts of the economy, the emerging hydrogen market also presents an economic opportunity.

It has the potential to support between 50,000 to 125,000 direct and indirect jobs and generate about £300 billion of economic value between 2030 and 2050.

The UK advantage

The UK is well positioned to develop a prominent role for hydrogen in the energy mix. It possesses 20% of Europe’s low-cost wind resources for producing green hydrogen and a long history of gas production in the North Sea, to enable blue hydrogen production. 

Much of the UK’s oil and gas infrastructure, including gas terminals and pipelines could potentially be reused to store and distribute hydrogen. We also possess a world class energy technology supply chain with the knowledge and skills to deal with safe hydrogen production and distribution.

Hydrogen coast

It’s encouraging to see the UK begin to exploit these advantages, with a range of projects delivering innovation and building the foundations of Scotland’s ‘Hydrogen Coast’.

This includes the Aberdeen Vision, the SGN H100 project, Acorn H2 and CCS, the Scottish Industrial Cluster Decarbonisation Roadmap (SNZR) and the Orkney Projects, and we’re looking forward to the publishing of the ‘Report on Hydrogen’ by Scottish Government in partnership with Arup in December.

The End2End Initiative

OGTC is currently working in collaboration with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the High Value Manufacturing Catapults Network, the Aerospace Technology Institute, the Advanced Propulsion Centre, and others in a collaborative project to look at the end-to-end technology gaps and innovation needs for hydrogen production and distribution.

This end-to-end virtual hydrogen technology centre will enable the development of a skilled hydrogen supply chain, deepening the knowledge base in the UK. It is imperative the UK doesn’t depend on imported technology for hydrogen, but instead takes the opportunity to become an exporter of both hydrogen and the technology for its production.

Do we currently possess the technology to do it?

Yes, however despite some very promising projects taking place along the ‘Hydrogen Coast’/industrial clusters it’s still very expensive and not competitive.

Significant technology innovation is required to reduce the cost of hydrogen production. That is why we still need to invest in research and development.

What gaps do we need to address?

In June, OGTC published the ‘Closing the Gap’ report, written in collaboration with Wood Mackenzie and LUX research, with funding from the Scottish Government and Chrysaor.

The report highlights the technology gaps for affordable hydrogen, and where we need to invest in innovation, including:

  • membranes and sorbents for blue hydrogen;
  • saltwater electrolysis and catalysts for green hydrogen;
  • underground storage, LOHC, pipelines resurfacing etc. for transport and storage.

We need to start deploying hydrogen technologies swiftly to keep pace with our target to reach net zero by 2050. We must also invest in innovation to reduce costs and develop a technology supply chain that will deliver new jobs and economic benefit. Hydrogen is part of the net zero energy mix, along with electrification and renewable energy technologies. Scotland and the UK can be a global player in this exciting technology. We need to move at pace to take a lead.

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