Green hydrogen could be vital to decarbonising Ireland – report

Analysis shows State could ultimately become an exporter of the renewable fuel

Green hydrogen, produced using renewable electricity – especially from offshore wind generation – can play a vital role in decarbonising Ireland, while making the country's energy supply more secure, according to a report issued on Wednesday.

The analysis by Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) shows how abundant wind energy resources could produce vast quantities of green hydrogen for domestic consumption and ultimately Ireland can become an exporter of the renewable fuel made by electrolysis of water.

Pursuing this course over the next 20 years will reduce dependence on the imported fossil fuels that have caused significant spikes in electricity prices in the second half of 2021, concludes the report commissioned by Wind Energy Ireland with support from Green Tech Skillnet.

Coinciding with production costs reducing markedly, green hydrogen has emerged as a leading option for reducing emissions in hard-to-decarbonise sectors of the economy, notably industry and transport. It can also be used to provide electricity during periods of low wind or solar energy, it finds.

In response, WEI has identified two key policy actions needed to kick-start a green hydrogen industry in the State. Its calls on the Government to release a robust hydrogen strategy by mid-2022, setting out targets across industry, heavy road transport, shipping, aviation and power generation – backed by measures to increase demand.

Zero-carbon electricity

WEI chief executive Noel Cunniffe said: "Ireland has an enormous opportunity to transition rapidly to a zero-carbon electricity system, and green hydrogen can play a vitally important part in getting us there."

He added: “In addition to delivering the wind energy targets set out in the 2021 Climate Action Plan, we must plan for the long-term replacement of our existing gas generator fleet with green hydrogen and long-duration storage over the next decade. This will help ensure that we have a reliable source of power that can deliver when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”

When deployed to provide electricity, “green hydrogen can provide flexible, on-demand power,” the report finds.

The Republic is one of a handful of EU member states without a hydrogen strategy.

“Ireland is ready for green hydrogen, but we need a clear signal from Government that they are committed,” Mr Cunniffe said.

Pursuing green hydrogen to reduce emissions in harder-to-decarbonise sectors, ensures better utilisation of Ireland’s “vast renewable potential”, while also creating new industries, such as green fertiliser production with benefits for the carbon footprint of the agri-food sector.

It would also enable Ireland to meet a greater share of energy requirements using indigenous renewables.

“This will reduce imports, increase our energy security and reduce reliance on complex and often sensitive supply chains,” it concludes.

CDG head of innovation Dr Cian Desmond, a lead author of the report, said: "The potential for the domestic green hydrogen market is enormous. Ireland's significant levels of wind energy generation can enable us to switch from fossil fuels to green hydrogen in sectors as diverse as heavy goods vehicles, public transport, shipping, aviation and fast reaction electricity generation to balance the grid."

Wind farms

The construction of the required wind farms and green hydrogen production process to realise this potential would represent an investment worth some €18.4 billion to the Irish economy, resulting in the creation of approximately 16,000 direct and a further 32,000 indirect jobs, he said.

Chief operating officer for the Irish company EIH2 Catherine Sheridan said a national hydrogen strategy was needed to enable the transition "to a green independent energy future".

The expertise required existed in Ireland, she noted, as Gas Networks Ireland, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, universities and industry were collaborating with groups such as Wind Energy Ireland, Hydrogen Ireland and Engineers Ireland.

She added: “We can learn from the hydrogen strategies developed by other European countries and apply it in an Irish context. Ireland will always need a fuel to complement renewable electricity and if we don’t produce it ourselves, we will be reliant on importing hydrogen from other countries.”