Plans unveiled for green hydrogen hub in the Scottish Highlands

Image: The Port of Cromarty Firth

In plans released late last week, the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) revealed that several member firms have begun a feasibility study for the proposed project.

The plans outline how up to 15 new offshore wind sites will be developed in the region in the coming years, making the Firth an ideal location for a substation feeding into an onshore electrolyser. The electrolyser would be co-located with tank storage.

Backers include energy firms ScottishPower and Pale Blue Dot Energy, the Port of Cromarty Firth and Scotch whiskey distillers Diageo, Glenmorangie and Whyte and Mackay. It has been proposed that the distilleries would be among the first organisations to receive green hydrogen supply from the hub, given the sector’s plans to reach net-zero and the Government’s support for hydrogen uptake in this space.

Aside from the distillery sector, the facility could serve sectors including shipping, road transport, aviation and rail. It could also forge links with the nearby spaceport and aquaculture hubs as well as onshore wind farms.

The feasibility study for the project is due to finish in June. After that point, the project partners will be able to release figures on potential capacity, timelines of delivery and associated costs.

“The North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme is a flagship project, showcasing how partnerships across energy and industry can deliver long-term, sustainable solutions for areas where electrification can’t reach,” ScottishPower’s hydrogen director Barry Carruthers said.

“The Highlands of Scotland have been at the heart of the renewable energy revolution over the past two decades and now they look set to be at the centre of the green hydrogen revolution.”

Scotland is notably targeting net-zero by 2045 – five years earlier than the UK as a whole.

In a policy statement released last month, Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “No one fuel or technology is by itself the solution to climate change, but hydrogen has the potential to be an important part of a decarbonised energy system, and a significant and valuable export opportunity.”

Hydrogen in the Rough

The news from the Highlands came shortly after Centrica confirmed that it has entered talks with the UK Government to convert its disused offshore natural gas storage site in Rough, northeast England, into a hydrogen storage facility.

Rough closed in 2017. Centrica has argued that now is an opportune moment for conversion and re-launch, given that a net-zero industrial cluster including green hydrogen generation is planned for the Humber. Centrica is a partner in that project along with Equinor, Drax, Uniper and National Grid.

Outlets including Bloomberg are reporting that the cost of the conversion works will stand at around £650m and that Centrica has appealed for financial assistance from the UK Government. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is notably due to publish its hydrogen strategy in the near future following months of delays and mounting industry pressure for clarity.

The UK Government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) has repeatedly maintained that hydrogen is a non-optional facet of the UK’s transition to net-zero by 2050. But, while it can help to reduce oil and gas use in some hard-to-abate sectors, it is not inherently ‘green’ – more than 95% of the hydrogen produced globally in 2020 required fossil-powered processes. It is hoped that as renewable electricity generation scales up in line with long-term climate and energy targets, the cost of green hydrogen will fall.

Sarah George

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