The Hydrogen Islands

Orkney’s abundance of natural resources has enabled rapid growth in renewable energy. Since 2013, Orkney has generated over 100% of its electricity demand from renewable energy, mostly onshore wind.

However, the current grid infrastructure, which was designed only to bring electricity to the islands, is a key barrier to Orkney reaching its full renewable energy export potential.

This has led to the exploration of how best to store and use renewable energy, and here is where Orkney’s hydrogen story begins.

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, found in water, plants, animals and humans.

Hydrogen can be produced from the electrolysis of water (H2O), using an electric current to split water into its component parts of Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2) with no harmful by-products.

Currently, hydrogen is used in chemical production, fertilisers, rocket fuel, food production and more. However, the production of hydrogen is rarely green – i.e. produced by renewable energy.

Electrolysis of water to split hydrogen and oxygen

Hydrogen in Orkney

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) began developing its hydrogen infrastructure in 2016, with the installation of an electrolyser at its tidal test site on Eday. The project (called Surf’n’Turf) was supported by the Scottish Government to demonstrate how green hydrogen could be generated using tidal and wind energy.

Once the hydrogen has been generated, it is stored and transported in specially designed hydrogen storage trailers. The hydrogen is then shipped to Kirkwall where a 75 kW fuel cell housed at Kirkwall Pier converts the hydrogen back to electricity to be used as auxiliary power for the ferries when docked in the harbour (a process known as ‘cold ironing’).

EMEC's hydrogen production site and energy storage building at Caldale, Eday (Credit EMEC)
Jerry Gibson, EMEC operations technician, overview of EMEC hydrogen mobile storage unit (Credit Colin Keldie)
Kirkwall fuel cell internal (Credit Colin Keldie - EMEC)

Today, Orkney is a hub for hydrogen research and development activities to demonstrate the use of hydrogen in decarbonising power, heat and transport applications.

Shapinsay ferry Orkney
EMEC hydrogen storage cylinders (Credit Colin Keldie)
Staff training at EMEC combined heat and power (CHP) unit at Kirkwall airport (Credit Colin Keldie, EMEC) 640

Visit the EMEC website to find out about past and present hydrogen projects in Orkney.

Opportunities

Green hydrogen could also play an important role as a building block to produce low-carbon derivative fuels.

Hydrogen solutions developed in Orkney will therefore be applicable to other communities facing similar energy-related challenges of their own as we transition to a low-carbon society.

Neil Kermode, EMEC Managing Director

“Innovation is a journey of discovery, bringing people, ideas and networks together to make things happen. You might not end where you intended to, but you will end somewhere, and most importantly, you will have moved. The lessons learnt are key to developing a sector as novel as hydrogen is, creating a knowledge economy that benefits future projects”