Developing clean energy technologies and bringing them to market in Shetland is the focus of a new project recently funded by Scottish Government and led by the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC)
The project known as Energy Hub aims to offer a major step forward to a net-zero future while fundamentally transforming how the north-east energy system works.
The first phase of Energy Hub is already underway with it being described as being at “heart of delivering the energy integration ambition”.
The concept of energy hubs is they will produce clean energy from a combination of renewable sources such as wind, tidal and hydrogen, as well as capturing CO2 emissions through carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The hub seeks to build out offshore wind and hydrogen production technologies around Shetland, while also decarbonising oil production by providing green electricity to offshore platforms, widely referred to as “electrification” within the sector.
NZTC, alongside a range of stakeholders, including Shetland Islands Council (SIC), is already involved in the Shetland-based Orion (Opportunity, Renewables, Integration, Offshore Networks) scheme.
The Energy Hubs project, which takes in Orion, recently received £2.8 million of funding from the Scottish Government to be matched by industry bringing the total to £5.6m so far.
Martyn Tulloch, NZTC head of energy system integration, is hoping to get as many companies as possible on board for the project.
Phase one progressing
The first phase, which is expected to take 12 months to complete, is now underway with a three-month consortium-forming period where they will talk to existing partners that have expressed an interest in the Energy Hub and also looking at building links with other people and companies who may want to come onboard.
That’s before moving onto phase two which was described by Mr Tulloch as the “real meat on the bones.”
Mr Tulloch said: “We are focusing very much on the new technology aspects of these projects.
“There’s huge potential across Scotland. Orion is one of the leading projects and one we’ve had the closest links with over the past year and a half so we will be working with them.
Orion’s green H2 vision for Shetland
“But we are also working with other partners across Scotland and looking at pulling in technology and developing their own technology, to reduce the cost of hydrogen production.
“It’s such a broad topic and £5.6million is great but it’s just a start.
“What we want to do during phase one is to have a long list of projects that we can invest in come phase two, as well as look to alternative sources of funding.
We are focusing very much on the new technology aspects of these projects. “
“The Scottish Government and UK Government have both got hydrogen demonstration funding pots coming up and we want projects we can take to those. European funding is another opportunity for us.”
Making green hydrogen a reality
Cost is a significant barrier to the development of green hydrogen, which involves producing the chemical element with renewable energy. Technology development, such as the system that uses electricity to break water into hydrogen and the removal of salt from seawater, will be key.
Mr Tulloch said: “In hydrogen production quite often people focus on the electrolyzer which is a central piece of equipment and we will be looking at reducing the cost of electrolysis via this project.
“But there’s also a whole host of other technologies that contribute to an energy hub. Everything from offshore wind where you really need to have a low cost source of green electricity to be able to produce hydrogen economically. So we need to reduce the cost of offshore wind.
“But once you get that wind back to the beach there a lot of other processes. You’ve got to desalinate water if you are using sea water. You’ve got to be able to compress the hydrogen and store it and transport it to market.
“So we will be looking at a whole range of technologies in this project. It’s quite exciting.”
Jobs boost and huge potential
It is thought Orion could create 821 jobs in Shetland by 2050.
Mr Tulloch has given a twelve month target for phase one to be complete.
He said: “The scale of the opportunity is so big. Beyond phase one and two we want to see three and four where we actually commercialise these technologies.
“Because there’s so many technologies involved in an energy hub, we will invest in the highest potentials of them but then we will be actively looking for funding for some of the other technologies that we maybe couldn’t fund in this programme.”
Mr Tulloch described the opportunities for industry to manufacture the hardware involved the hub technologies as “hugely exciting”.
He said: “There’s opportunity all across Scotland and a real opportunity for the supply chain to try and capture some of the manufacturing potential here.
“These are all new technologies. There’s no established manufacturing base anywhere. If you look at the number of electrolysers that have been manufactured it’s certainly less than 1 gigawatt, probably less than 100 megawatt.
“We are talking about multi-gigawatt projects that are going to require the establishment of a whole new manufacturing supply chain.”
“And we are looking at alternative approaches to established technologies.
“We are really keen to hear from people who feel they can contribute and companies who would like to be part of this.
“Although we do have strong links with our core group of people who want to be engaging, we have an open door policy to form as strong a consortium as possible.”
What is the net zero technology transition programme?
Funding for the initial stages of the Energy Hub project comes from the Scottish Government via its £62 million Energy Transition Fund.
The NZTC was recently awarded £16.5m to develop seven schemes through its net zero technology transition programme (NZTTP) , which it claims could deliver £403 billion for the economy and 21,000 jobs by 2050.
With industry agreeing to more than match that level of funding, a total of £34 million will be invested in projects aimed at “transforming the North Sea energy system” and delivering a net-zero future.
In addition to the Shetland Energy Hub, projects will include hydrogen export infrastructure, robotics, data science research projects, data sharing and remote operations technology.
Another initiative involves the development of turbines — used to power oil and gas platforms — which can run on clean fuels, as opposed to natural gas.
NZTC was originally founded in 2016-17 as the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, backed with £180 million worth of Aberdeen City Region Deal funding over 10 years.
It was initially set up to boost oil production, but its focus has shifted to developing tools that can speed up North Sea industry’s transition to net zero.