Hydrogen in Scotland: The Role of Acorn Hydrogen in Enabling Net Zero

A perspective from Sam Gomersall, Pale Blue Dot Energy’s Hydrogen Champion

Scotland could be producing 121 TWh of Hydrogen by 2050, sufficient to meet all its own needs and exporting to Europe. Hydrogen is key to meeting Net Zero and rapid action is required to address climate change. Acorn Hydrogen will initiate large scale hydrogen production by 2025 at St Fergus in North East Scotland and will act as a catalyst for the regional and national hydrogen transformation, enable Net Zero and provide a key stepping-stone for the Just Transition. In the report Hydrogen in Scotland recently completed by Element Energy, the role of the Acorn Hydrogen Project in enabling Net Zero has been assessed based on potential hydrogen growth scenarios.

In 2019, the Climate Change Act, approved by the Scottish Government, set the ambitious target to achieve a carbon neutral Scotland by 2045, five years earlier than the UK Net Zero target. To accomplish these targets, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has identified hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as indispensable technologies for the transition, highlighting the importance of an early deployment of these technologies beginning in the 2020s.

The Acorn Hydrogen project will be the first large-scale hydrogen project developed in Scotland, located at the St Fergus gas terminal, where 35% of the UK’s annual gas supply enters the National Transmission System. The project is initially planning the construction of a 200 MW hydrogen production plant, that could become operational by 2025, and which would allow for a 2% hydrogen blend by volume into the National Transmission System (NTS). The emissions from the hydrogen production would be captured, transported, and safely stored offshore deep underground, reusing current oil and gas infrastructure, enabled by the sister project, Acorn CCS.

The project is highly scalable, due to large volumes of natural gas feedstock available, the massive offshore CO2 storage capacity and the availability of existing offshore pipeline infrastructure. This means that large volumes of hydrogen can be generated in the 2020s and beyond, offering an opportunity to establish hydrogen infrastructure before other complementary decarbonisation technologies reach scale.

The report considered the potential role for hydrogen in decarbonizing heat through the gas network, either by blending or 100% hydrogen, potential hydrogen use in power generation at Peterhead Power Station and supply of hydrogen for industrial and transport applications. The work looked at the complimentary and evolving roles of blue hydrogen (hydrogen from natural gas with CCS) and green hydrogen (hydrogen from the electrolysis of water).

The report found that Acorn Hydrogen could play an essential role in unlocking benefits across Scotland and the UK, including helping achieve Net Zero, driving economic growth, and developing both physical and intangible assets that could be leveraged in the longer term. In terms of emissions reduction, just displacing natural gas for heat would reduce emissions by 9MtCO2/year.

Large-scale adoption of hydrogen would also result in economic growth and long-term job creation across the hydrogen supply chain. The macro-economic benefits of a Scottish hydrogen economy would be multiple and would cover several sectors, ranging from hydrogen production through reformation and CCUS, to gas grid conversion, and spanning to production and operation of electrolysers and deployment of off-shore wind.

Acorn Hydrogen would bring an opportunity for future hydrogen projects to exploit the physical assets that early deployment of Acorn Hydrogen would enable and are needed in the transition towards Net Zero.

Hydrogen presents a stepping-stone in the Just Transition. By leveraging local skills from workers in the oil and gas sector and applying them to hydrogen and CCS, regional supply chain jobs can be protected. Similarly, the relatively low disruption brought in by the use of hydrogen in carbon-intensive sectors, such as power plants or industry, means that current workforce skills would be easily transferred once hydrogen substitutes for natural gas, thus leading to job retention and savings associated with reskilling.   

Acorn Hydrogen is key to Scotland’s hydrogen economy. Hydrogen will create economic growth, act as a catalyst for Net Zero and unlock wider long-term growth opportunities which can support the Just Transition.

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