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A circular approach to energy system integration will be critical to not only driving net zero projects, but contributing to national objectives, writes Managing Director of Ryze Ireland, Catherine Sheridan.
Few can be in doubt, after the extreme weather events of 2023, that we need to accelerate our actions to move away from fossil fuels. But while this is vital, it is equally important that we identify guiding principles for our efforts. As the saying goes – if you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there.
To further build on this metaphor, the old maps we have for the energy sector will not work on the new roads to net zero. Instead, our new guiding principles can provide us with the navigation tools to reach this brave new world.
For many, including the European Union, it starts with energy system integration, a less linear and more circular approach that links various energy carriers such as electricity, heat, gas solid, and liquid fuels with each other and with the end-user.
For example, keeping a data centre cool involves removing heat from the servers. That heat could be used in a district heating scheme. The energy in waste food could be converted into biogas, which can in turn generate electricity. It is hard not to like the idea really, because it appeals to our sensibility of “waste not want not”. It is the sort of approach that will be critical as we deal with the problem of climate change.
It is no coincidence that the EU energy system integration strategy was issued in parallel with the Hydrogen Strategy. While we cannot achieve net zero with hydrogen alone, we will not be able to reach it without it. Take the example of transport, which accounts for about a third of total energy consumption. We can certainly electrify personal, and some public, transport but for intercity coaches and HGVs, for example, hydrogen offers more benefits in dealing with the refuelling time, weight, distance, and topography.
More than that, though, it can address strategic challenges faced on the island of Ireland. Using hydrogen for transport gives a route to market for curtailed and constrained renewable electricity pending grid expansion.
By creating an all-island transport hydrogen coach corridor, we are gifted an economic opportunity whereby deepening north/south cooperation can develop businesses and skills that can be exported worldwide. This can build upon successes of the likes of the Kerry Education and Training Board, which has developed courses to support new skilled jobs, and the work of Wrightbus to create next generation hydrogen vehicles will see our island become a world leader.
“By creating an all-island transport hydrogen coach corridor, we are gifted an economic opportunity whereby deepening north/south cooperation can develop businesses and skills that can be exported worldwide.”
Such a hydrogen coach corridor could also give universities and companies a chance to collaborate, for action on climate action is not bounded by political leanings or geopolitics.
When we look beyond the primary drivers for a net zero project, we can see how they support other national objectives. The co-benefits above were chosen because they so happen to be the objectives of the Shared Island Fund. If we only think of decarbonising transport for its own sake, we miss the richness of the solutions that can be achieved.
Ryze is co-creating solutions with our customers, partners, and policymakers to see how zero-emission solutions for transport and industry can leverage energy system integration. With this as our guiding value, we have a compass to create the new world where value creation is no longer a zero sum game.
Catherine Sheridan is the Managing Director of Ryze Ireland.