Orkney’s reputation for marine energy expertise and excellence extends around the world.
But we don’t stand still here – far from it. Innovation has been at the heart of Orcadian life for millennia and the islands are at the vanguard of research into energy systems of the future.
Grid capacity constraints in Orkney mean that renewable energy created here is often lost or wasted. Now, new projects involving the production of hydrogen could be the answer to the capacity issue.
Hydrogen as green energy
Excess electricity can be used to create hydrogen through electrolysis. This means surplus renewable energy can be stored and used to produce heat, power or fuel for low carbon transport in the future.
As you might expect, Orkney is ahead of the curve.
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) installed a hydrogen production plan at its onshore site in Eday in 2016. This creates hydrogen from excess energy produced by the tidal energy converters testing offshore at its Fall of Warness site and from the island’s community wind turbine.
This ‘green’ hydrogen is stored in special mobile units and transported to the Orkney mainland where it can then be used on-demand in variety of ways, including powering harbour and ferry operations in Kirkwall. The project is part of the Surf ‘n’ Turf initiative, run by a range of local partners, which has become the foundation of the wider BIG HIT scheme. It adds renewable energy produced in Shapinsay to the mix, with another electrolyser in place there.
The hydrogen produced can be used for buildings and vessels in Kirkwall harbour, as well as fuel for a number of hydrogen vehicles in Orkney Islands Council’s fleet. The local authority has put together a local 'Orkney Hydrogen Economic strategy’ which will help the islands play a part in reaching sustainability targets, but also attract funding for a range of projects with global significance.
Hydrogen projects in Orkney
That’s not the end of the story though. Other hydrogen projects are in progress, all of which could make a difference to life here in the islands.
Building on the success of Surf ‘n’ Turf, the HyDIME project is looking into the use of hydrogen as a fuel in marine transport. It will see the design and integration of a hydrogen/diesel dual fuel conversion system on a commercial ferry running on the route between Kirkwall and Shapinsay. The project will gain the necessary marine licences and regulatory approvals for hydrogen to be used as a fuel in a marine environment, which will have a significant impact on future hydrogen marine projects across the rest of the UK.
Meanwhile, the HyFlyer initiative aims to decarbonise medium range small passenger aircraft, eventually culminating in a 250-mile, zero-emission hydrogen powered flight from an Orkney airfield.
There’s even work underway to investigate the feasibility of producing local gin using hydrogen as a fuel, yet another example of Orkney’s open-arms approach to renewable energy.