ABB Energy Industries is driving the move toward renewable hydrogen with an offshore wind project: SoutH2Port.
There are two hurdles the joint venture must overcome: the first is the difficulty and expense associated with producing offshore wind energy — something that requires underground cables, which connect to onshore transmission. The second is the high price of creating hydrogen from renewable energy.
“This collaboration is a key part of our strategy in both the hydrogen and offshore wind markets,” said Brandon Spencer, President of ABB Energy Industries. “Creating a seamless supply chain, through partnerships such as these, is essential to accelerate the energy transition. Hydrogen plays a crucial role in helping achieve the world’s climate goals when it comes to decarbonizing the industrial and transportation sectors.”
The Swiss-based company just announced the project that will connect to Skyborn’s 1-gigawatt offshore wind farm in Sweden. Lhyfe, a pioneer in producing renewable hydrogen, will work with Skyborne to operate the wind farm. When fully operational, it will generate about 240 tons of hydrogen per day, with an installed capacity of 600 megawatts, making it one of Europe’s largest suppliers of renewable hydrogen.
ABB’s role is to help integrate hydrogen and electricity production across the entire ecosystem: automation, electrical and digital technologies. The goal is to scale the technology and propel the low-carbon energy transition.
The plant will support the decarbonization of the Swedish energy system, either directly with hydrogen supply or by further downstream production of refined fuels such as methanol, sustainable aviation fuel, or ammonia – contributing to the government’s plans to become the world’s first fossil-free welfare country by 2045. SoutH2port will create new jobs and business opportunities. The company did not provide a start-up date.
Land-based wind facilities cost at least 50% less than offshore wind units. That is because developers must build under-seas cables before hooking those up with land-based transmission wires. Concerns also abound over the impact such development would have on marine life and the migratory patterns of whales.
Is Green Hydrogen Too High of a Hurdle?
But it is working in Europe. Scotland, for example, got dozens of applications from wind developers to potentially build wind farms off its coast. Developers could make as many as 25,000 megawatts —suitors including BP Alternative Energy Investments, SSE Renewables, ScottishPower Renewables, Shell New Energies, and Vattenfall.
Europe has a total of 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy. That equates to 5,400 grid-connected turbines.
The big question is whether the United States can have similar success. If it can solve the transmission roadblock, the answer is a “yes” — something to which the Biden Administration is committed. Moreover, the oil industry has expertise operating in oceans, and it could team up with willing utilities and wind developers. Therefore, it could be a win-win proposition, especially because areas off New England and the mid-Atlantic are rich with opportunity.
The US Department of Energy would like to have 54,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, although that does seem out of reach. Those scenarios include development in both federal and state offshore areas, including along Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts and in Great Lakes and Hawaiian waters.
Governments must offer several incentives if they consider this a high priority. So, by the time cost is figured in, it is less trouble to build a combined-cycled natural gas plant. But if society has placed a premium on reducing carbon emissions, it must consider other alternatives.
Proactive public policies are also necessary to overcome the obstacles of creating green hydrogen produced from renewables. Today most hydrogen is produced in reactions involving coal and natural gas. The goal, though, is to produce hydrogen from low-carbon energy sources.
The good news is that wind and solar prices are falling while the electrolyzers are getting better and cheaper. Within two decades, it could be competitive. Hydrogen from renewable power is technically viable today, says the International Renewable Energy Agency, noting that its price will one day be on par with “grey hydrogen” from coal and natural gas. Green hydrogen is already more cost-effective than “blue hydrogen,” which utilizes carbon capture technologies.
In the case of green hydrogen, solar panels produce electricity that may get stored in a battery before being used in an electrolyzer that creates pure hydrogen gas and stored in a cylinder or tank before being sent to a fuel cell. It uses hydrogen to produce clean electricity with no emissions.
“What we see as an opportunity is to scale up to reduce the cost of electrolyzers,” says Emanuel Taibi, head of Power Sector Transformation Strategies for IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Center, in an earlier talk. “It is still small-scale and hand-made. If we can industrialize those, we can increase the scale 5-to-10 times.”
Indeed, ABB’s partnership with Skyborne and Lhyfe provides new economies of scale for offshore wind and green hydrogen production. And if it works in Sweden, it can be replicated globally, including the United States, which is trying to power both initiatives.