Innovative offshore wind to hydrogen signals a low carbon future

Armin Schnettler

What an interesting week it is turning out ot be! Today we have taken a significant step on the road to a low carbon future with the announcement that the two companies Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy are joining forces to address one of our decade's major challenges to decarbonize the economy to solve the climate crisis. The companies will combine their wind to hydrogen developments for a fully integrated offshore wind-to-hydrogen solution that produces green hydrogen at the turbine level. This collaboration will kickstart a new era of offshore green hydrogen production that will power a cleaner future.

Together I think the two companies are in a unique position to successfully deliver this game-changing solution. Siemens Gamesa has vast experience in installing and operating complex systems in an offshore environment and has developed several innovative systems in its turbine designs that are suited to large-scale hydrogen production, such as control systems that enable wind farms to operate off-grid. Here within Siemens Energy we have deployed electrolyzer solutions in various environments around the world and will, with its new technology, be able to increase conversion efficiencies to unseen levels. The new electrolysis system will be designed to be pressurized to at least 30bar, containerized and with a modular 5MW form factor. The goal is to develop a flexible and scalable future proof system.

 The need for green hydrogen

As the world transitions towards a low-carbon future to meet its obligations, I see several challenges that must be faced. One that is highlighted in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2020 is that all of today’s power plants, industrial plants, buildings, and vehicles will generate a certain level of future emissions if they continue to rely on unabated combustion of fossil fuels. If all these assets, as well as power plants currently under construction, were operated for similar lifetimes and in similar ways as in the past, they would still be emitting around 10 Gt of CO2 in 2050. It goes on to point out that to meet our obligations, the existing carbon intensive assets must be managed in a vastly different way. That is where green hydrogen comes to the fore for power generation, industry, and mobility.

I am witnessing a growing recognition surrounding the role that hydrogen will play as we transition towards a zero-carbon future. Long-term forecasts expect hydrogen to grow exponentially over the next decades as transport and heavy industry decarbonize. But the challenge is to produce enough hydrogen to meet the growing global demand in an environmentally friendly manner.

An integrated solution

The integrated offshore wind-to-hydrogen solution will lower the cost of hydrogen by being able to run off-grid, enabling more and better wind sites to be utilized. It will maximize the amount of wind power that is converted to green hydrogen molecules through lower electrical losses in a fully synchronized system. The solution will also be designed to enable large scale cost-out potentials through modular and standardized components designed for manufacturing. This way, offshore wind farms for hydrogen production of various sizes and locations can use the same solution instead of having to build one-off, project-specific installations for each site.

As part of this project Siemens Energy will design a completely new electrolysis system to be integrated into the turbine in the first of its kind development. All main components will meet the offshore restrictions of space and environment.

People have asked me why are we developing this technology to work with offshore as opposed to onshore wind? Well, there are two major advantages to the offshore option. Firstly, there are far more areas with high load winds available offshore than onshore. By comparison, there are suitable offshore locations with abundant wind in areas such as the North Sea, North America, and Australia. The second benefit is that it is expected to be cheaper on an overall system view to transport hydrogen to shore than electricity. Offshore high voltage cables and their installation is quite expensive while comparatively a pipeline is more cost effective especially for large quantities.

A demonstration plant is planned to go into operation in 2025/2026 in the North Sea with the exact location to be announced this year and with the solution expected to be ready for sale in 2024/ 2025. We expect a wide range of potential customers, including independent power producers, utilities, developers, and private equity funds. Any customer who requires large amounts of green hydrogen from offshore wind will find the offshore wind-to-hydrogen solution an approach that provides cost-efficient green hydrogen with a minimum of interface risks as it is one integrated solution, that combines both the offshore wind generation process and the hydrogen conversion process at sea.

Hydrogen is already used to power industry today and currently accounts for 1.7 per cent of global annual energy consumption. Replacing this current polluting consumption would require 820 GW of wind generating capacity, 26 per cent more than the current global installed wind capacity. Long-term forecasts from various industry sources point to green hydrogen growing exponentially over the coming decades as transport and heavy industry decarbonize, requiring between 1,000 GW and 4,000 GW of renewable capacity by 2050 to meet demand, which highlights the vast potential for growth in wind power.

 

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