Hydrogen is carving out its place in the world of renewable energy. Regional developments like hydrogen valleys and hydrogen islands are serving as blueprints for larger ecosystems to produce and consume this versatile fuel locally.
The Northern Netherlands region used to be prime gas country. One of the largest gas fields in the world was found underfoot in Groningen province. Gas extraction from the territory helped bankroll the Netherlands for decades. But times are changing.
‘Gas production is winding down,’ said Jochem Durenkamp, hydrogen project manager at New Energy Coalition. ‘Which would mean the north would lose many jobs. Hydrogen turned out to be a perfect replacement.’
With gas extraction and related jobs coming to an end, these northern regions are seeking alternatives. Furthermore, shifts in the soil from drilling for gas are causing minor earthquakes, with 72 registered in 2021 alone. This has significant economic repercussions, particularly when it damages houses in the area. As much as €1.2 billion has been paid out in compensation for earthquake damage since 1991.
The Northern Netherlands region is setting out to become a so-called “Hydrogen Valley”. The HEAVENN project, coordinated by the New Energy Coalition, is at the helm. The region is tapping European support to develop the infrastructure necessary to adopt green hydrogen as a locally produced energy supply.
The European Union has an eventual target of 100 of these hydrogen valleys. Currently there are 23 in Europe at various stages of development, with the ambition to double this total by 2025. Dozens of projects have commenced all over Europe and in 20 countries worldwide, in a rapidly evolving clean energy investment trend worth billions. Follow the link for a map of hydrogen valleys.
The strategy is to provide a regional economic impetus while also fighting the main driver of climate change, the burning of fossil fuels. Eventually, when enough regions emerge, they will join up to create a wide-scale hydrogen-based economy founded on a clean, secure energy supply.
The Northern Netherlands is in an ideal position to take advantage of the hydrogen opportunity. Located close to the rapidly expanding offshore wind farms of the North Sea, it has a direct line of renewable energy to manufacture green hydrogen. On top of that, the previous gas exploitation in the region has created a body of knowledge and skills that easily transfers to the production, distribution, storage and consumption of hydrogen in the local economy.
The idea behind hydrogen valleys is to create a self-sufficient hydrogen ecosystem from start to finish. In the case of HEAVENN, that begins by identifying sites where the electrolysis process can be used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by use of electricity.
A Hydrogen Valley is a medium-sized area where clean hydrogen is produced locally and consumed by homes, vehicles and industry. The goal is to initiate a hydrogen economy at the community level. Eventually the regional hydrogen valleys will join up to create wider economic zones powered by hydrogen.
When this electricity is derived from renewable sources, like offshore wind in the case of HEAVENN, the hydrogen is considered to be a green energy source. Most usually stored as a gas, this zero-emission energy carrier is used to fuel everyday applications such as in transport, heating and industry.
HEAVENN, for example, invests in projects for hydrogen-based mobility with a number of hydrogen filling points for every kind of hydrogen powered vehicle – from cars to trucks and buses. Hydrogen will also be used to power a datacentre and to heat residential neighbourhoods.
Building energy ecosystems is not easy. ‘The project includes thirty partners,’ said Durenkamp. ‘It’s a big challenge to coordinate what they do, but building this ecosystem is key for hydrogen.’
Beyond the partners, the local community is also an important player. ‘It’s very important that inhabitants are consulted,’ said Durenkamp. ‘Where before, energy was extracted from underground, it’s now very visible in the landscape with wind turbines, solar panels and large electrolysis facilities. Whenever something is done in the project, it’s done together with the local inhabitants.’
Another region unlocking hydrogen’s potential is the Spanish island of Mallorca, which styles itself as a “Hydrogen Island”.
‘The idea of the project came when CEMEX, a cement manufacturer, announced it would close its plant on Mallorca,’ said María Jaén Caparrós. She acts as coordinator of hydrogen innovation at Enagás, the Transmission System Operator of the national gas grid in Spain. ‘With hydrogen, we want to re-industrialise the island and decarbonise the Balearic region.’
Known as GREEN HYSLAND, the project will create an ecosystem of hydrogen producers and users across the Mediterranean island. Achieving this will cut down on expensive energy imports and eliminate harmful emissions.
Central to this is an electrolysis plant that produces hydrogen from energy supplied by two newly built solar-power plants. This hydrogen is then used in a range of different applications in the locality. For example, the public transport company of the city of Palma de Mallorca is rolling out hydrogen-powered buses. Another use-case is to power the island’s vital ferry port and even to provide energy for a hotel. But community energy needs community support.
‘It’s key to have the support of society,’ said Jaén Caparrós. ‘Hydrogen is something new for the Balearic Islands. This project will not only promote reindustrialisation based on renewables, but will also provide knowledge, research and innovation. It is a milestone that the Balearic Islands must take advantage of, in order to promote the diversification of the production model with new, stable and quality jobs.’
The second related objective of GREEN HYSLAND is to reduce the emissions from the use of natural gas. They will inject part of the hydrogen into the gas grid, according to Jaén Caparrós. They are compatible sources of energy. ‘We will build a hydrogen pipeline to transport it to the injection point,’ he said, ‘Which we will use to partly decarbonise the natural gas grid.’ They plan to commence this phase by the end of 2022.
In this way, hydrogen can be mixed into the existing gas infrastructure used to heat homes, hotels and industry or generate electricity. The resulting blend of gas and green hydrogen has a lower emissions footprint than just using gas by itself, a step toward complete decarbonisation.
GREEN HYSLAND even joined up with parties from outside of Europe. ‘We are 30 partners from 11 countries including Morocco and Chile,’ said Jaén Caparrós. ‘They also want to develop green hydrogen ecosystems, and hydrogen valleys have an added value if we can connect with regions inside and outside of Europe,’ she said.
‘Hydrogen valleys create new jobs, re-industrialise and create new economic activities,’ said Jaén Caparrós. ‘And on top of that they decarbonise. It serves the entire society.’
Once this infrastructure-building and experimentation phase is complete, the lessons learned will also need to scale up. Both HEAVENN and GREEN HYSLAND want to share what they learn. ‘We want to be a blueprint for other regions across the world,’ concluded Durenkamp. ‘If this project is a success, we want to share it.’
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Waste not, want watts – turning waste into energy
Energy communities bring renewable power to the people
New Roadmap to Help Unlock 7GW of Offshore Wind Potential in Azerbaijan by 2040
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The race is on to reuse waste as energy in the most effective way possible. Combined heat and power is an old idea for saving fuel with a new imperative to slash emissions. Innovative furnaces based on biofuel systems will generate heat and power from waste materials with near-complete efficiency and very low emissions.
The old mantra of waste not, want not, goes for energy as well as food. The less energy we waste, the lower will be our carbon emissions.
It may come as a surprise to learn that around half of total energy is wasted in conventional ways of producing heat and electricity from fossil fuels. But there is another way to generate both electric power and heat in what is called “combined heat and power” (CHP), or cogeneration. Quite apart from using fossil fuels, it opens the door to bring more bioenergy from waste material into the energy mix. This kind of material is often overlooked as a resource but it has significant potential.
‘This is a way to produce heat and power at the same time,’ said Martin Stroleny at Greenovate Europe, a Brussels-based network that supports sustainable technologies and green innovation. ‘It can save up to 40% energy compared to conventional power-only systems.’ He is part of an EU funded project called SmartCHP, which is designing a new engine that can turn biomass into heat and electricity.
The work involves modifying a diesel engine so that it can handle bio-oil, instead of diesel. The project scientists and engineers have been working on the nuts and bolts of the machine for the last two years.
The idea is to first use a machine (a fast-pyrolysis plant) that can turn organic waste such as olive kernels, but also forestry and agricultural leftovers, into a bio-oil. The greenish bio-oil can then be routed down either of two paths. The oil can be fed into a modified diesel engine to generate electricity, or, if heat is required, into a flue gas boiler.
‘We can generate heat and electricity at the same time,’ explained Stroleny, ‘And the system is very dynamic.’ This means the production of heat can be dialled up on a chilly winter day, but then dialled down during warmer summer days. It is also a great solution to balance the energy grid and complement more variable renewable energies such as solar or wind.
The engine that the project is designing will be suitable to provide heat and power to hotels, hospitals, schools and even some industrial buildings. ‘We can help them decrease their energy and heating costs, as well as improve overall energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’ said Stroleny.
In the past few months, the team scored a significant success when it put together its CHP unit in a lab and ran it on bio-oil for 500 hours. ‘This is actually a world’s first,’ said Stroleny. ‘The first time that somebody managed to run a CHP unit on biofuel for such a length of time.’
For now, the various parts of the machine such as the diesel engine, flue gas boiler and smart controller are being developed and tested in a lab. The project is still working on the best way to put them all together and make the CHP unit as efficient as possible. Full-scale testing is likely to occur in 2023.
It will also evaluate different biological feedstocks to go into the machine, such as olive kernels from Greece, miscanthus crop from Croatia or forestry waste from Sweden. SmartCHP is carrying out a market assessment in different countries, to support the commercialisation of these new machines.
CHP generates power and heat at the site of the school or hospital itself. This makes it especially suitable for heating and powering buildings in remote locations or even in places that are not connected to an electricity grid, such as islands.
BLAZE is another European project that is plugging away at developing more efficient and flexible technologies for returning leftover biomass as combined heat and power services. Engineers here are developing CHP systems capable of converting industrial, food or timber waste and other biomass into energy.
This process produces a gas for fuel, but this is not combusted in an engine or gas turbine. Instead, the gas is fed into a fuel-cell, a battery-like device that converts chemicals in the gas into electricity and heat. The system then feeds electricity into the electricity grid, to help balance the loads and possibly to make up shortfalls if the inputs from wind or solar power taper off.
‘The challenge is how to convert biomass waste in an efficient way, without emissions, and also at low cost,’ said Professor Enrico Bocci at the University Guglielmo Marconi, who leads the BLAZE project. Later this year, CHP machines will be put through their paces. The hope is for electrical efficiency of close to 50%, and an overall CHP efficiency of 90% – meaning that 50% of the energy available from a fuel gets converted into usable electricity and 40% into heating.
The system will take in all sorts of wastes, which might generate tar, particles, sulfur and chlorine compounds that could interfere with the unit. To avoid such problems, it will turn waste into gas at around 800°C and treat it, before feeding the gas into the fuel cell, converting fuel plus oxygen into electricity and heat at temperatures of around 700°C, with very low emissions. The gas can also flow into a burner to allow for more heat to be generated.
A pilot power plant will be assembled in Italy towards the end of this year and tested up to May 2023. ‘We will achieve double the electrical efficiency of biomass CHP plants with zero emissions from our pilot programme,’ said Bocci.
‘When the price of energy increases, people and companies will look for alternative solutions to fossil fuels,’ he added. There is also a dire need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels for geopolitical and climate reasons. But it is not possible to replace fossil fuels only with renewable electricity from solar and wind, said Bocci, and as long as there is life there will be biomass.
BLAZE is a first demonstration of this technology that can convert leftover biomass highly efficiently and with low emissions and costs.
We are not there yet, but researchers and engineers in Europe are moving towards the day of optimal combined heat and power. It will provide multiple benefits.
‘There will come a time when you can take your biomass waste and put it in a small, low-cost reactor and generate electricity, heat and chemicals, with no emissions,’ said Bocci.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
A new roadmap released today by the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) shows that Azerbaijan has the potential to install 7GW of offshore wind power by 2040, with the right long-term vision, infrastructure development, investment, and policies – which could play an important role in achieving the country’s parallel priorities of decarbonization and sustainable growth.
The first-of-its-kind Offshore Wind Roadmap for Azerbaijan provides strategic vision under two scenarios – a low growth and high growth scenario – to support decision-making about regulations, frameworks, and infrastructure related to this new industry at a time when interest in developing offshore wind is increasing globally.
Analysis of the low growth scenario envisions a moderate expansion of offshore wind resulting in 1.5GW of fixed foundation offshore wind by 2040, making up 7 percent of the country’s electricity supply under a decarbonization scenario. The high growth scenario outlines a more ambitious expansion with 7.2GW of offshore wind by 2040, making up 37 percent of its electricity supply.
The high growth scenario will result in more energy, more jobs, faster pay-back and more carbon dioxide avoided compared to the low growth scenario due to the increased cost reduction delivered by a larger market. However, significant and early action needs to be taken for this to happen. Both scenarios would only be tapping into a fraction of the vast technical potential for offshore wind resource in the country.
The roadmap sets out the recommended actions to be taken in order to realize the offshore wind potential under both scenarios. These recommendations include setting targets for 2030 and 2036, developing and competitively bidding a 200MW demonstration project followed by larger projects, further exploring potential offshore wind development zones, modernizing infrastructure, adopting international best practices to attract financing, educating all government agencies and the future workforce to build the knowledge and capacity needed to deliver a pipeline of offshore wind projects.
“Over the past few decades, Azerbaijan has effectively leveraged our oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea for the benefit of our country’s economic development. But the world is changing, and it is time to tap into a new resource in our seas – the power of offshore wind,” said Elnur Soltanov, Deputy Minister of Energy for the Republic of Azerbaijan. “Offshore wind offers our country a unique opportunity to transfer our oil & gas expertise and workforce to a new sector that can simultaneously help us achieve our goals of decarbonization and economic diversification to pave the way to a prosperous future for Azerbaijanis”, he added.
According to Sarah G. Michael, World Bank Country Manager for Azerbaijan,, offshore wind offers Azerbaijan a local, competitively priced, large scale, clean source of energy and long-term jobs. “Our analysis of the high growth scenario suggests that offshore wind power could create thousands of jobs by 2040, as well as provide billions in local gross value added to the economy in Azerbaijan – all while avoiding millions of tons in carbon emissions. Further analysis shows offshore wind will play a significant role in reaching net zero emissions in Azerbaijan’s power sector – a key priority for the country as highlighted in the Azerbaijan 2030 National Priorities,” she added.
Ivana Fernandes Duarte, Regional Manager for the South Caucasus at IFC, commented that this roadmap is an important milestone in IFC’s collaboration with the Government of Azerbaijan to deploy offshore wind as part of the country’s wider decarbonization strategy. “We at IFC are proud of our excellent collaboration with the government of Azerbaijan. We look forward to supporting the country in its journey towards renewable energy deployment that can create new economic growth opportunities in the country, by providing both the advisory services and financing to support private sector investment in this sector,” she said.
This Roadmap is one of a series of offshore wind roadmap studies commissioned by the World Bank Group under the joint Energy Sector Management Assistance Program-International Finance Corporation (ESMAP-IFC) Offshore Wind Development Program. Funding for this study was provided by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) and PROBLUE. The roadmap was produced, under contract to the World Bank, by BVG Associates in association with Kent, and Encotec, and with the input of The Biodiversity Consultancy. The roadmap has been prepared with the consultation of stakeholders from a wide range of public and private representatives from across the local the global offshore wind industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress towards universal access to electricity and clean cooking fuels and technology, and fallout from the war in Ukraine could result in further setbacks, according to a UN-backed report, published on Wednesday.
Currently, 733 million people worldwide still do not have access to electricity, and 2.4 billion people still cook using fuels detrimental to their health and the environment.
At the current rate of progress, 670 million people will remain without electricity by 2030 – 10 million more than projected last year.
The findings are from the 2022 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, which monitors global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG7) of ensuring affordable modern energy supply for everyone by 2030.
The study was produced by UN entities and partners, known as the SDG7 custodian agencies, who urge governments and policymakers to step up action.
“International public financing for renewable energy needs to accelerate, especially in the poorest, most vulnerable countries. We have failed to support those most in need,” said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), one of the partners.
“With only eight years left to achieve universal access to affordable and sustainable energy, we need radical actions to accelerate the increase of international public financial flows and distribute them in a more equitable manner, so 733 million people who are currently left behind can enjoy the benefits of clean energy access.”
COVID-19 impacts such as lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, and diversion of fiscal resources to keep food and fuel prices affordable, have affected progress towards achieving SDG 7.
The world’s most vulnerable countries have been particularly affected. Nearly 90 million people in Asia and Africa, who previously gained access to electricity, can no longer afford to pay for their basic energy needs.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has compounded the situation, as it has led to uncertainty in global oil and gas markets, as well as soaring energy prices.
The report said Africa remains the least electrified in the world, with 568 million people without access. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without electricity rose from 71 per cent in 2018 to 77 per cent in 2020, while most other regions saw declines.
Furthermore, although 70 million people globally gained access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, this progress was not enough to keep pace with population growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report found that despite continued disruptions in economic activity and supply chains, renewable energy was the only energy source to grow through the pandemic.
Yet, many countries most in need of electricity have been left behind – a situation that was further aggravated by a decrease in international financial flows for a second consecutive year.
SDG7 also includes targets towards energy efficiency. From 2010 to 2019, global annual improvements in energy intensity averaged around 1.9 percent, which is well below the levels needed to both meet the targets and to make up for lost ground.
The SDG7 custodians are IRENA and the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
They recalled that the UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy, held last September, brought together governments and stakeholders to accelerate action to achieve a sustainable energy future that leaves no one behind.
The partners urged the international community and policymakers to safeguard gains toward SDG 7, and to remain committed to continued action towards affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. They must also maintain focus on countries needing the most support.
Dr. Maria Neira of the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized why access to clean cooking is critical.
She said millions of people are killed through heart disease, stroke, cancer, and pneumonia because they still rely on dirty cooking fuels and technologies which are major sources of air pollution.
“Women and children are particularly at risk – they spend the most time in and around the home and therefore carry the heaviest burden to their health and well-being,” said Dr. Neira, Director of WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.
“Transitioning to clean and sustainable energy will not only contribute to make people healthier, it will also protect our planet and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” she added.
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