Renewable power generation continues to grow as the world’s war on climate change and fossil fuels rages on. Green energy sources like wind and solar have crossed the power threshold and are often the cheapest forms of new energy generation. In Europe & the UK, the shift in the energy paradigm becomes increasingly apparent - in 2020, wind accounted for more than 16% of generated capacity.

The vision of a net-zero future cannot be realised by clean power alone. Energy-intensive industries like steel or heavy transport require alternative means of decarbonisation in the quest to remove fossil fuels. With more than 250GW of projects in the global pipeline, green hydrogen has become the proverbial golden child for industries in which renewables can’t cut it.

The problem? As it stands today, the actual green H2 capacity is virtually non-existent, and projected costs to develop large-scale production are massive compared to alternatives. Thus, many in the industry subscribe to the myth that green H2 will take decades to scale to the level needed to reduce costs.

Swedish utility Vattenfall, however, argues that by taking an integrated approach with offshore wind - Northern Europe will see low-cost green H2 as early as 2030.

Offshore wind will be the backbone of the hydrogen economy

Vattenfall is widely considered a leader in both wind power and hydrogen. The company has nearly 50 wind farms in operation, is a founding member of the AquaVentus initiative, and actively pursues innovative solutions for decarbonising industry using fossil-free hydrogen. Now, the company aims to integrate its experience with both technologies in response to the rapidly rising demand for affordable green hydrogen.

“Vattenfall is aiming to become a large scale producer of hydrogen from offshore wind”, explains Vattenfall’s Ane Mette Lysbech-Kleis, “and will work with others along the supply chain to ensure sufficient volumes of low-cost green hydrogen can be supplied to customers, to facilitate their decarbonization.”

As head of Market Development for the Business Unit Offshore, Lysbech-Kleis and her team have performed numerous feasibility studies on integrating green hydrogen with offshore wind. Their research proved several synergies between the two technologies that could significantly reduce green H2 production costs through standardisation, industrialisation, scalability, and technical innovation.

“One of the key optimisations is modifying the power electronics within the turbines to minimize conversion steps between the turbine generator and the electrolyser stacks,” explains Lysbech-Kleis, “this will lead to cost reductions due to simplified electronics, as well as reduced losses as conversion is minimized, materially impacting the levelised cost of hydrogen (LCoH).”

Other benefits of moving offshore are leveraging pipelines as a transport medium as compared to cables. Over the same distance and for the same energy transport capacity, pipelines can be an order of magnitude cheaper at scale and don’t require multiple parallel systems. This minimizes environmental footprint and consenting challenges, providing additional LCoH reductions.

Lower transmission costs also enable integration with floating offshore wind, enabling access to poor seabed locations and floating foundations in deepwater areas further offshore.

“These locations in deep water far offshore tend to have better wind conditions,” Lysbech-Kleis explains, " and will no longer be beyond our reach to develop cost-effectively.”

2030 Vision

Today’s pipeline sees the majority of projects focused on onshore electrolysis, which in some cases may reach gigawatt (GW) scale by 2030. Other projects are looking at offshore electrolysis, with 2035 being the likely time that GW-scale will be reached.

“We intend to accelerate this to by 2030,” shares Lysbech-Kleis, referencing Vattenfall’s multi-step deployment plan for offshore hydrogen.

Vattenfall’s roadmap to offshore hydrogen deployment

Vattenfall's multi-step plan roadmap builds progressively on learnings to raise technological readiness and solidify the fundamentals required to steadily scale production to meet industrial demand. Under this timeline, the industry would deliver GW-scale production by 2030 if the right conditions are there.

2019 - Feasibility studies initiated, various pathways and technical concepts investigated.

2022 - First onshore systems and components testing (Deep Purple Kongsberg, ~500kW).

2024 - First offshore demonstration (single turbine retrofit, on-turbine integration, and H2 flowline to shore).

2027 - First cluster of multiple turbines of ~100MW, and H2 export to shore via dedicated pipeline.

2029 - First deployment of GW-scale sections of farms or dedicated farms. Leveraging of dedicated H2 transmission infrastructure.

Source: Vattenfall

The company’s roadmap sees offshore hydrogen production reaching GW-scale by 2030. The plan progressively builds on learnings to raise technology readiness levels and scale and solidifies the fundamentals needed to reap the benefits of integration.

The company is already taking the necessary steps on the path, but steady progress relies on various technical, financial, and regulatory dependencies.

“One key technical dependency is physical integration of offshore wind turbines with hydrogen production process plant and auxiliaries,” says Lysbech-Kleis, “in a way which allows turbines to operate independent of an electrical supply from the grid.”

Another important factor is developing the additional underground storage capacity that’s needed to deliver H2 to storage, and eventually to end-users. There must also be a supply of “hydrogen turbines”, which are purpose-built to withstand harsh offshore conditions with minimal need for replacement or maintenance.

Cost reductions for electrolyser systems and reasonable prices for onshore pipeline network transport and underground storage will be crucial in enabling the technical factors.

“On the path towards GW scale, funding support will be required to make the initial projects viable,” Lysbech-Kleis continues, “so support during the ramp-up phase is critical.”

Lysbech-Kleis contends that governments and policymakers can enable policy instruments that preference hydrogen production at the source of power generation as opposed to at the end-user, or somewhere on the grid. Thus making funding less onerous to obtain in the early stages of projects, and paving the way for further regulatory support for hydrogen.

Much is needed in the way of regulatory support for the 2030 vision to be made a reality. Overhauls to marine spatial planning must recognize the benefits of offshore H2 production, and allocate sites accordingly. Policy instruments should preference hydrogen production at the source of power generation, rather than at the end-user or on the grid itself.

“Dedicated offshore tenders should be made to specifically ask for off-grid hydrogen farms, or at the very least don’t block this option by locking in electrical transmission plans, preventing pipeline transport from being able to be used instead,” suggests Lysbech-Kleis.

“Similarly, sites for hydrogen should be able to use pipelines to transport the hydrogen to shore,” she continues, “this is by far the most cost-effective transport method – shipping is not feasible unless looking at intercontinental transport.”

Fossil-free future

Offshore wind-to-hydrogen is an important part of Vattenfall's vision for a fossil-free future within our generation. Reaching GW-scale hydrogen production by 2030 is certainly no small feat given where we are today, and the company's roadmap relies heavily on a plethora of conditions being met.

If one thing is certain - integration of hydrogen with offshore wind offers the most promising pathway to enabling industrial decarbonisation at scale, affordably.

Interested in learning more about Vattenfall's H2 Development plan?

Don't miss panel discussions of Helen Bistrom, head of business area wind on Tuesday, 23 November 2021, 15:45 - 16:45 about decarbonising industrial processes.