Northern Ireland has competitive edge on hydrogen


Northern Ireland (NI) is uniquely positioned to become a leader in hydrogen deployment and technology, both in the UK and Europe, according to a report.

On 29 March, a research team, funded by Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy, published analysis, stating that NI’s unique geographical and political characteristics suggest green hydrogen could have an important role to play in its energy transition. The report was prepared by the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, HyEnergy Consultancy and Dublin City University to contribute to the evidence base as Northern Ireland develops a new energy strategy.

Northern Ireland has a potential competitive advantage, when it comes to hydrogen, owed to the abundance of onshore and offshore wind and solar resources it can call on, which are untapped in many cases, to advance hydrogen technologies and its relatively small geographic area, which is ideally suited for deploying and testing initial hydrogen centric technology solutions. Its modern gas and electricity networks, interconnection to both Ireland and Britain, availability of salt cavern storage and an internationally recognised track record of engineering and manufacturing innovation were also cited as advantages.

It explored a series of scenarios for hydrogen deployment in Northern Ireland, finding that larger-scale regional and centralised hydrogen production can result in unsubsidised costs of £2.53-£4.99/kg and higher CO2 savings. If realising all scenarios at once – which are not mutually exclusive – there is the potential to achieve annual CO2 savings of 27,304 tonnes by 2030. The combined annual production of hydrogen would be 13,378 tonnes, or 7kg per capita per year. As a means of comparison, it referenced the European Union is targeting 10mn tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030, or 22.5kg per capita, per year.

It went on to map out a potential timetable for scaling up a green hydrogen economy in Northern Ireland, highlighting three defining phases to ensure success. This would begin with market development, up until 2030, where hydrogen production and end use applications are grown simultaneously, while policy and regulations are rapidly implemented and passed through their relevant bodies, ensuring beneficial, symbiotic growth of hydrogen influenced sectors.

From 2030 to 2040, constant, rapid market development would unfold, with the optimisation and critiquing of suitable systems for geographical locations and situations. The market would then have become fully established between 2040 and 2050, with the mature market development phase of optimised technologies now seen, reaching large-scale production and mass deployment.

To achieve this vision, it called for integrated planning for hydrogen deployment across all energy and industry sectors in Northern Ireland to be quickly stepped up. The necessary support for technology demonstrators and hydrogen hubs should be put in place, while it also drew on the importance of maintaining and strengthening cooperation on hydrogen with the rest of the UK, Ireland and the EU.

For the benefits in decarbonisation, energy security, competitiveness, economic growth and innovation for the region to be realised, it further stressed that Northern Ireland’s ambitions on hydrogen must be clearly articulated with a pathway to exploit its potential mapped out.