In its transition to net zero, it is essential that the UK now invests in the technologies of the future. Hydrogen can be used for the decarbonisation of many sectors of the UK’s energy system such as industrial clusters, transport modes including heavy-goods vehicles, trains, buses, manual handling equipment and maritime applications as well as the gas grid.
However, most of the hydrogen used today comes from fossil fuels and there are upstream emissions associated with its production. Zero carbon hydrogen production options are now needed at scale to ensure hydrogen can fulfil its potential.
Gigastack’s answer to this urgent need is renewable hydrogen. Renewable hydrogen is increasingly recognised as a vital component of the UK’s energy future and the decarbonisation of the whole energy system. It is produced by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen in an electrolyser using renewable electricity – from a wind farm for example. This ensures there are no emissions associated with this type of production. To date, renewable hydrogen has helped to decarbonise small passenger car and bus fleets as well as small scale gas grids through demonstration projects. Scaling this to decarbonise industry, larger fleets and the UK’s gas networks requires:
- The next generation of electrolyser stack – to reduce the underlying cost of manufacture
- Electrolyser manufacturing capacity – to reduce costs through economies of scale, and reduction of lead times
- Wind farm – electrolyser synergies – to increase overall system efficiency and ensure as low as possible a price for input electricity
- Technical and commercial understanding of how renewable hydrogen can be used in a large-scale industrial facility
All of which are being developed through activities in Gigastack. The Hydrogen Council, a global initiative of leading energy, transport and industry companies, forecasts that the cost of electrolysis is expected to come down significantly to become competitive with blue hydrogen (from reformation with CCS) and even methane.
Large scale electrolysis will also support the UK’s wider transition to a cleaner energy system. Balancing the UK’s electricity supply within a system with an increasing proportion of weather-dependent generation and ever-changing consumer behaviour is becoming increasingly challenging. Renewable hydrogen can support renewable electricity generation over short time frames by responding to changes in demand in sub-second time. This is possible for dedicated assets, such as Hornsea, as well as the wider UK electricity network and can minimise consumer exposure to variability. Renewable hydrogen also supports inter-seasonal energy variation by flattening demand and supply curves using long-term storage. This increases the security of our energy supply in an increasingly variable future. Renewable hydrogen is vital for the scaling up of renewable generation capacity and the UK Government’s vision for 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.
The UK Government has highlighted the importance of renewable hydrogen production, bringing new economic opportunities and growth in jobs across the UK, with the Gigastack project itself referenced in both the UK Energy White Paper and the “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”. The “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” sets a UK Government low carbon hydrogen production milestone of 1GWth by 2025 and 5GWth by 2030. The 2025 timeframe is likely not viable for deployment of CCUS and, by default, is a target that can only met by timely support for renewable hydrogen. The “Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener” report has begun to address this with the launch of the “Industrial Decarbonisation and Hydrogen Revenue Support” (IDHRS) scheme which will support approximately 250MWe of electrolyser capacity by end of 2023 and 500MWe of electrolyser capacity by end 2024. Gigastack can contribute to these targets not only in deployment capacity but also by demonstrating how such an approach can be replicated and scaled elsewhere, thereby also supporting the 5GWth 2030 target.
Gigastack is of increased importance as the flagship UK renewable hydrogen project, creating a blueprint for deploying scalable electrolyser technology.
Benefits of Renewable Hydrogen
Zero Carbon Emissions
Carbon emissions from electrolytic hydrogen are only associated with the carbon intensity of the electricity used to produce it. Where renewable electricity is used to split the water (as in Gigastack), the hydrogen product is termed renewable hydrogen – the carbon emissions are zero.
High Hydrogen Purity
The hydrogen from an electrolyser is inherently pure, which means it can be used directly in even sensitive applications such as the low temperature fuel cells used in hydrogen fuelled cars and buses.
Hydrogen production from polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers is inherently flexible. This means that; (i) the electrolyser can respond to changes in the setpoint in sub-second time frames, allowing it to follow the generation profile of variable renewable energy sources; (ii) the asset can operate at a wide variety of load factors; and (iii) the 5MW modular stack design enables the electrolyser to be built at a variety of capacities to suit the use case.
Reduced Reliance on Fuel Importation
The only resources required to produce electrolytic hydrogen are water and electricity. An increased UK portfolio of electrolysers would decrease our dependency on imports of foreign natural gas and, thereby, increase the security of our national energy supply.