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Ports will be at the heart of green hydrogen revolution in the Highlands and Islands

By Highlands & Islands Enterprise - Energy team

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Elain MacRae, head of energy strategy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), looks at the green recovery and opportunities for the region

Elain MacRae, HIE
Elain MacRae, HIE

The recovery from Covid-19 has added a new economic imperative to the Scottish Government’s overarching strategies: the transition to a net-zero economy and building a global Scotland as we leave the EU.

In getting our economy back on track, a green recovery with renewables at its heart will accelerate decarbonisation, enhance our position as a world leader in the low carbon technologies and deliver benefits to communities across the Highlands and Islands.

A report published in September by Crown Estate Scotland, Ports for Offshore Wind, found that while Scotland already has a strong and thriving ports sector, there are various steps that could be taken to maximise the potential of ports to host the major offshore wind projects set to come to Scotland.

We welcome the recommendations of the report, which include increasing port capacity and manufacturing capabilities suitable for large-scale offshore wind developments, establishing a national strategy for determining how facilities are developed, and the creation of new “optimal” operation and maintenance facilities for ports. This report starts discussion with industry and policy makers on the challenges and opportunities that existing and upcoming offshore wind ports will face.

These steps, if applied successfully, could ensure that our ports are ideally placed to support the major expansion of offshore wind, and help Scotland take a major stride towards net zero.

Renewable hydrogen is the next big global industry. Offshore wind and hydrogen form a compelling combination as part of a net-zero economy for Scotland. They bring major potential for jobs, economic growth and regional regeneration, as well as attracting inward investment, alongside delivering the emissions reductions needed to achieve net zero.

To secure benefits from the opportunities presented by the new technology, Scottish Government will shortly be publishing a hydrogen policy statement and action plan, setting out how it will be incorporated into the country’s energy strategy.

In recent years, the Highlands and Islands has seen success in projects, such as a ‘world first’ hydrogen project by EMEC, which produced hydrogen gas using electricity generated from Orkney tides. Orkney already embraces decarbonisation and is known for leading Britain’s drive towards a carbon-free future.

Our intelligence database shows a pipeline of 12 hydrogen projects across the region. These are looking at the opportunities and challenges from integrating high levels of renewable energy and green hydrogen production. Some have technologies on the edge of commercial viability and large markets could emerge over the next decade.

Our ports are a strategic asset for Scotland, playing a “key role” in the integration of offshore wind and hydrogen. As ‘renewable hub functions’ emerge producing green hydrogen, our ports will be vital for the transportation and export of gases between supply and demand hotspots. This could offer a new lease of life to coastal communities.

These ports are becoming the focal point in local and regional development as the natural centre of industrial activity and development, bringing together knowledge, labour and capital to the renewable energy sector.

Despite low oil prices continuing to challenge the economics of the more mature offshore assets around the North Sea, decommissioning is a growing, if still emerging, market.

With decades of experience in oil and gas and having the vital infrastructure needed for decommissioning and renewables, it’s pleasing to see Kishorn Port and Dales Voe securing significant contracts in the past few months.

Kishorn has hosted three large projects in 2020 alone. The trio of wins follows significant investment over five years to recommission the dry dock, which is the largest of its kind in the UK, and to upgrade other facilities at the port.

Kishorn Port’s ongoing investment strengthens its position for major decommissioning projects for oil and gas assets and for construction of offshore floating wind structures. As the port’s facilities strengthen, so do the prospects for increased rural employment and opportunities for growth in the local area.

Last month, Pioneering Spirit, the largest construction and decommissioning vessel in the world, delivered the Ninian Northern platform topside. This marked the inauguration of a new, heavy-duty decommissioning pad at Dales Voe, expanding the capability to keep UK sector decommissioning projects in the UK. The topside will be decommissioned at the base, with a 97 per cent recycling target set by the Veolia and Peterson partnership.

It’s crucial we don’t let these opportunities slip through our fingers if the Highlands and Islands, and Scotland, want to stay at the cutting edge of innovation in the transition to net zero, with all the economic benefits that will bring.

The scale of the challenge presented is immense, but ultimately there’s an opportunity to build long-term prosperity in the region based on new, net-zero investments.

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