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Long awaited by many in the energy sector, the National Hydrogen Strategy was launched by Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD, aboard a hydrogen-fuel-cell-electric double-deck bus.
Published in July 2023, the National Hydrogen Strategy is the Government’s first major policy statement on renewable hydrogen and is aimed at increasing certainty and reducing commercial risk to drive private sector investment.
The strategy explores the opportunity for Ireland, hydrogen production, end-uses, transportation, storage, and infrastructure, alongside safety and regulation, research, cooperation, and scaling. In addition, it determines Ireland’s strategic hydrogen development timeline, seeking to “provide clarity on the sequencing of future actions needed and guide our [the Government’s] work over the coming months and years”.
Outlining the rationale for developing an indigenous hydrogen sector in Ireland, the National Hydrogen Strategy identifies three primary policy drivers:
1. Decarbonising the economy
Ireland requires a radical transformation of its entire economy if it is to achieve net zero emissions no later than 2050. Indigenously produced renewable or green hydrogen can play a significant role in this transformation, with its potential to be a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels in hard to abate sectors of the economy. This includes those in which electrification is unfeasible or inefficient.
2. Enhancing energy security
Ireland imports around three-quarters of its energy supply annually. However, by harnessing one of the world’s best offshore renewable energy resources and using the surplus to produce renewable hydrogen, Ireland has an opportunity to reduce reliance and potentially achieve energy independence. While fossil fuels are utilised as a backup to renewable energy sources, renewable hydrogen could become a zero-carbon replacement. As per the National Energy Security Framework, hydrogen is highly energy dense and, therefore, suited to the development of seasonal storage solutions at scale, helping to mitigate variability and seasonal demand.
3. Creating industrial and export market opportunities
In the long term, Ireland has the potential to produce excess renewable energy, including hydrogen. At the same time, many European countries have identified a long-term demand for renewable carbon imports to meet decarbonisation ambitions. As such, the establishment of an export market could be beneficial to the domestic development of renewable hydrogen.
In the short term, the National Hydrogen Strategy establishes a series of actions aimed at enabling the development of Ireland’s hydrogen industry. The strategy aims to removal obstacles which could inhibit hydrogen projects while enhancing knowledge through targeted research and innovation.
Established in 2020, the Interdepartmental Hydrogen Working Group is tasked with monitoring the delivery of these actions, while identifying further actions to support progress as the sector evolves.
Combining long-term ambitions with 21 short-term actions, the National Hydrogen Strategy aims to:
• kickstart and scale up renewable hydrogen production;
• identify end use sectors, supply chains, and required quantities;
• determine what infrastructure is needed;
• ensure the implementation of rules around safety, sustainability, and markets; and
• establish conditions which foster continued technological advancement and innovation.
In his foreword to the National Hydrogen Strategy, Minister Ryan asserts that, alongside other decarbonised gases, renewable or green hydrogen will have a key role to play in Ireland’s energy transition. Describing hydrogen as a “major opportunity for Ireland”, he contends: “It provides the potential for long-duration energy storage, dispatchable renewable electricity, the decarbonisation of some parts of high-temperature processing, as well as a potential export market opportunity.”
However, the Minister makes clear that the deployment of hydrogen technologies must be optimised to deliver the most efficient or advantageous solution.
“Hydrogen provides us with an incredible opportunity in Ireland, but its use must be targeted to the uses where it will deliver the greatest benefits. We must not become distracted by the possibility to deploying hydrogen technologies where direct electrification would deliver a better outcome,” he writes.
Renewable hydrogen deployment, the new strategy asserts, will centre on hard-to-abate sectors where direct electrification and energy efficiency measures are unfeasible or cost ineffective. Meanwhile, heavy transport applications bound by EU targets for 2030 are expected to be the first
end-use sectors to emerge, quickly followed by industry and flexible generation.
While identified as significant high-priority end-users, the aviation and maritime sectors will take longer to develop. Indeed, given the uncertainties which exist in demand projections, it is thought that domestic hydrogen demand could range between 4.6 TWh and 39 TWh by 2050, increasing to 19.8 TWh and 74.6 TWh when including non-domestic energy needs such as international aviation and shipping.
Consequently, more research is required to determine a better understanding of the potential demand of end-use sectors, as well as the role that renewable hydrogen will play in an integrated net zero energy system.
In order of priority, the strategy lists 11 envisioned hydrogen end-uses:
1. Existing hydrogen end-users: Renewable hydrogen will replace niche grey hydrogen uses with a likely market entry timeframe of 2025-2030.
2. Flexible power generation and long duration energy storage: Net zero flexible backup generation and long duration energy storage with a likely market entry timeframe of 2030-2035.
3. Integrated energy parks for large energy users: As a backup to renewable electricity to meet reliability needs with a likely market entry timeframe of 2025-2030.
4. Industrial heat and processing: For high temperature heating and processing needs with a likely market entry timeframe of 2030-2035.
5. Aviation: As a zero-carbon synthetic fuel alternative to jet fuel with a likely market entry timeframe of 2035-2040.
6. Maritime: As a zero-carbon fuel (e.g. ammonia) with a likely market entry timeframe of 2035-2040.
7. Road and rail transport: For long-range road transport requiring long duty cycles and rail where electrification is unfeasible with a likely market entry timeframe of 2025-2030.
8. New non-energy uses: Such as fertiliser production and other chemical processes not currently undertaken in Ireland.
9. Export: Renewable hydrogen production exceeding domestic demand with a likely market entry timeframe of 2035-2040.
10. Blending: As a mitigation solution for end use variability and excess production with a likely market entry timeframe of 2023-2030.
11. Commercial and residential heating: In niche areas where electrification is unfeasible with a likely market entry timeframe of 2035-2040.
Hydrogen is most commonly chemically bonded to other elements, especially water (H2O) and hydrocarbons (CxHx). Hydrogen production relies on the chemical bonds between elements such as water to be broken, and the hydrogen separated and stored. This process requires an energy input, usually electricity or heat, the source of which, allied to the resulting byproducts, determines the carbon intensity of the production process.
Globally, most hydrogen is currently produced using hydrocarbons and in the absence of emissions abatement of the carbon byproduct. Grey hydrogen production is carbon intensive and unsustainable.
Electrolysis of water utilises electricity to split the molecule into hydrogen with oxygen as the byproduct. If the electricity used is generated via a renewable source, such as offshore wind, the resulting high purity hydrogen has no associated emissions and is therefore renewable or ‘green’ hydrogen.
Acknowledging a Gas Networks Ireland technical and safety feasibility study that determined transporting blends of hydrogen and natural gas via the gas network was both safe and feasible, the strategy recognises that “blending may offer an initial demand sink in the short term”. Notably, however, it concludes: “Overall, blending is not seen as a high priority end-use for renewable hydrogen.”
Commercial and residential heating
Similarly, the strategy indicates: “Hydrogen is not expected to play a role in commercial and residential space heating.” Rather, a combination of energy efficiency measures, direct electrification via heat pumps, and district heating are identified as “more efficient and cost-effective solutions” for the commercial and residential heat sector. Overall, the strategy contends that hydrogen will play a role in a small number of niche end use cases in commercial and residential heating which will “likely be required to work in parallel with energy efficiency measures such as hybrid heating systems where possible”.
Transportation, storage, and infrastructure
Ahead of hydrogen pipelines becoming the dominant mode of transportation, early hydrogen applications are anticipated to employ compressed tankering solutions. Initial infrastructure is expected to be concentrated in regional clusters with co-located production, high priority demand, and large-scale storage. Subsequently, as the hydrogen market matures, these clusters will be linked in a national hydrogen network, repurposing existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure where feasible.
To date, the gas network has proven technical capability to transport hydrogen blends of up to 100 per cent. However, the strategy suggests that more work must be undertaken to better understand “the costs, phasing of transition, and potential impacts for existing network users”.
Meanwhile, long duration storage via geological solutions will be essential to ensure the cost effectiveness and price resilience of hydrogen supply. Simultaneously, allied with network infrastructure, storage will be crucial in ensuring security of supply. Commercial ports, interconnection, and import/export routes will be vital to the establishment of a hydrogen economy in Ireland, and the long-term planning must identify the infrastructure requirements of an integrated net zero energy system.
Recognising, that renewable hydrogen is a nascent technology with much uncertainty around costs, end-uses, infrastructure, skills, and supply chains, the National Hydrogen Strategy seeks to provide a long-term vision for hydrogen in the Irish economy.
Ultimately, the strategy outlines, the proportion of onshore and offshore renewable energy dedicated to the production of renewable hydrogen “will eventually be determined by the market”. Though the delivery of sufficient renewable energy to both meet indigenous demand and enable export opportunities hinges on optimising the offshore renewable energy potential.