The UK’s seemingly unlimited potential for renewable hydrogen production from offshore wind means it is well placed to export the green fuel at a level that matches “the best years of the North Sea oil and gas industry”, a major new industry study has claimed.

A UK green hydrogen industry based on production via massive deployment of wind at sea, and extracting the full potential of strong UK scientific and technical expertise in electrolysis, could be worth £320 billion ($420 billion) to the economy by 2050, according to the report from the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult.

UK well set

As well as supplying huge domestic demand for hydrogen to help decarbonise sectors such as transport, heating and heavy industry, the report claimed the UK is ideally placed to help meet a projected shortfall of green H2 in Europe.

“Our offshore wind-H2 exports to Europe alone, could have an annual value of up to £48 billion, comparable with the best years of the North Sea oil and gas industry. We have ample, and inexhaustible, [offshore wind] to meet this need, and to supply into a global market for green hydrogen,” said the study.

A fully developed UK green hydrogen industry would also support 120,000 new jobs, helping compensate for those lost in declining fossil fuel sectors, it adds.

Meeting domestic demand and fulfilling export potential would mean the UK going well beyond the 75 gigawatts of offshore wind deployment, up from about 11 GW now, that is seen as necessary for the UK to meet its 2050 net-zero carbon emissions ambitions.

Government action needed

But the report pointed to a potential in UK waters identified at more than 600 GW by multiple studies.

The report’s authors want the UK government to act urgently to assist hydrogen research and demonstrator projects, help to stimulate early growth of a green H2 economy and set ambitious targets for both offshore wind and hydrogen deployment.

Green versus blue

Early action can help green hydrogen lock in cost reductions rapidly, with significant falls possible as soon as 2030, said the report, which claims renewable H2 at £1.65 per kilogramme can be cheaper than blue hydrogen from abated fossil fuels by 2050.

Upstream's sister renewable energy publication Recharge has previously reported how green hydrogen currently costs about $6 pre kilogramme.

Green hydrogen could become competitive with the blue variety much earlier if sufficient ambition is shown, and if electrolyser technology follows the same cost reduction path as renewable power, the report’s authors added.

The ability of green hydrogen to meet spiraling global demand — and whether blue H2 is better placed — has become one of the defining questions of the energy transition that was debated in a recent Recharge digital roundtable on the subject.

The offshore wind industry study comes soon after a report from the Hydrogen Council, which includes several fossil industry big-hitters, touted blue H2 as the key to early decarbonisation.

Benj Sykes, industry chair of OWIC, said: “Offshore wind is on track to become the backbone of our electricity system and that role will become even more important as it becomes the power source to make low-cost renewable hydrogen at scale.

“The UK needs to build full-size pathfinder projects as soon as possible to secure our position as a world leader in this exciting new combination of innovative technologies.”

Andrew Jamieson, chief executive of ORE Catapult, added: “We firmly believe that the same forces of rapid innovation and scale-up that have underpinned a spectacular drop in the cost of offshore wind, will also apply to hydrogen technologies, such as electrolysers.

"UK industry and academia have a lead in this fledgling industry.”

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister renewable energy publication Recharge on 8 September, 2020.)