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Green hydrogen economy starts in our rural communities

By University of the Highlands & Islands

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By Desislava Todorova, renewable energy researcher at the Environmental Research Institute at North Highland College UHI

Here at the Environmental Research Institute, part of North Highland College UHI, we have recently launched our latest renewable energy project based out of our Centre of Energy and Environment.

The Hydrogen Utilisation and Green Energy (HUGE) project aims to provide remote and rural communities with the tools to develop the use of green hydrogen for energy security.

Green hydrogen – hydrogen made through electrolysis from renewable energy – is an energy vector that is increasingly being seen as playing an integral part in moving towards a zero-carbon economy.

Hydrogen can be used to store renewable energy and help to solve intermittency issues. It also has a high energy-to-weight density and can be compressed, liquefied and transported through pipelines which makes it useful in distribution of energy. It will have a key role in applications where battery storage has limitations such as long-distance transport with HGVs or large transport such as shipping.

Funded through the European Northern Periphery and Arctic 2014-2020 programme, the €1.42 million project brings together partners from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Iceland, Finland and the Faroe Islands. The project is led by the Environmental Research Institute and, in Scotland, both Highland Council as a project partner and Orkney Islands as an associate partner are involved.

Hydrogen energy storage could offer green solutions, especially for remote and rural communities.
Hydrogen energy storage could offer green solutions, especially for remote and rural communities.

Common across partner countries is an abundant renewable energy resource with often underdeveloped grid infrastructure and storage facilities. This can lead to under exploitation of renewable resource or, in many cases, is leading to curtailment of generation from existing assets.

HUGE aims to overcome these barriers by building capacity in communities, with the help of sectoral agencies and SMEs, to exploit the abundance of natural resources to their full potential and in turn help create a hydrogen economy.

Key to the project’s success are the techno-economic assessment tool, the hydrogen utilisation business model and the hydrogen knowledge and technology transfer platform. The tools will allow communities to assess the renewable hydrogen supply chain opportunities in their area and will result in the hydrogen operational technical service which will be a transboundary service allowing communities full economic utilisation of the plentiful renewable natural resources surrounding them.

This will be achieved by identifying and assessing viable technical processes for hydrogen operations, creating a business model for hydrogen utilisation and enabling effective knowledge transfer through an online, multilingual platform.

In Scotland we are working closely with colleagues at Highland Council and, through involvement with the project, they are exploring options for low-carbon heating technologies for our rural and remote school sites. Generating and using hydrogen as a heat source is an option that has emerged in the feasibility assessments and is being actively investigated due to the huge potential of emerging technology in this field. The use of containerised hydrogen plant rooms could be an ideal sustainable solution for rural and off-grid communities.

The council is in contact with a number of suppliers about their developments and hope to implement this technology and lead the way for the use of the technology in other parts of the UK. The HUGE project will allow these options to be fully understood and help to overcome potential barriers and obstacles to using hydrogen as a low-carbon heating fuel.

The project builds on the success of previous Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme projects the Environmental Research Institute has worked on. A number of the partners have worked together on the Generating Renewable Energy Business Enterprise (GREBE) project which ended at the end of last year and built support for successful development of SMEs and start-ups in the renewables sector in remote and rural areas.

Through analysis of advanced renewable energy options, expert business mentoring, transnational models of successful growth strategies, policy analysis and support in finding funding mechanisms, the GREBE project has set the groundwork for the HUGE project.

Supporting and developing the hydrogen economy is not new to Scotland and the project aims to complement work being done in places such as the Pure Energy Centre in Shetland, through the Surf and Turf and Big Hit projects in Orkney and in transport applications from the Western Isles right across to Aberdeen.

The Scottish Government recognises the role hydrogen will play in our energy future through its Scottish Energy Strategy and the independent UK Committee on Climate Change’s recent plan for net zero sets out a hydrogen economy to service demands of industry, long-distance HGVs and ships, heating and meeting peak electricity demand.

We hope that through the HUGE project we can support these national aims and kick-start development of the hydrogen economy from, and also importantly to the benefit of, our remote and rural communities.

With abundant natural resources for generating ‘green hydrogen’ but also suffering from high levels of fuel poverty, there seems no better place to start.

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