Offshore wind and green hydrogen are “uniquely suited technologies” that could combine to play a massive role in the global energy transition – but must move quickly to achieve scale, technical reliability and price-competitiveness to achieve their joint potential, key players spanning the two sectors told a Recharge event.

Vast H2 production via electrolysis powered by gigawatt-scale offshore wind projects to wean sectors such as transport and heavy industry is widely seen as a potential “skeleton key that will help unlock our planet’s carbon-neutral future”, said Recharge Editor-in-Chief Darius Snieckus, who moderated a digital roundtable exploring the coupling of the two that attracted thousands of online delegates.

“Low carbon hydrogen is the number-one topic of interest among the companies we work with,” said Tom Heggarty, principal analyst in the energy transition practice of research group Wood Mackenzie.

“These two technologies are really uniquely suited to being developed in tandem,” Heggarty told the event, citing green hydrogen as a potential alternative route to market beyond fiercely-competitive power markets for some of the 400GW of offshore wind currently in global pipelines.

Heggarty cited the expertise in “gaseous fuels” and large-scale offshore deployment of the world’s oil & gas giants as a key addition to the project experience built up by power utility majors as an important factor as the offshore wind sector embraces hydrogen, and major players from both sides of the equation told the Recharge roundtable they expect to be heavily involved as the two combine.

Floating's forward-looking opportunity

Floating wind technology could carry green hydrogen production to massive new opportunities in deep waters far from shore, Johan Sandberg, head of business development at Aker Offshore Wind, told the Recharge event.

Free from the constraints of fixed foundations – and potentially operating as autonomous systems decoupled from power grids – floating wind-to-hydrogen plants could offer game-changing services such as refuelling options for vessels without the need to visit port.

“We’ve been looking at a very exciting project looking at offshore wind, potentially floating obviously, producing hydrogen, possibly then converted to ammonia, that can refuel ships all over the world.”

Scottish Power’s hydrogen director Barry Carruthers agreed that floating wind could open new geographies for offshore wind generally, and H2 production.

“Not so long ago many people thought why bother with offshore wind when onshore has a long way to go – now we’re talking about floating.

“There are enormous opportunities for growth and acceleration.”

Ingrid Fossgard-Moser, head of energy storage development for transitioning Norwegian oil & gas giant Equinor, said the 10GW NortH2 offshore wind-to-hydrogen plan, which the company is advancing along with partners including Shell and RWE, is a bid to “kick-start the development of green H2 in northwest Europe”.

'Entirely new value chain'

“It’s about creating an entirely new value chain and securing customers,” said Fossgard-Moser, adding that the size of the project would allow it to target heavy industrial clusters in northern Europe that could be among the first users of hydrogen to replace other fuels in their processes.

“Scale is going to be incredibly important in bringing down cost,” she said.

From the power side, Iberdrola – the Spanish utility giant that has helped lead the offshore wind charge globally – sees green hydrogen as a “completely logical” addition to its massive renewable electricity business, said Barry Carruthers, hydrogen director at its UK-based ScottishPower business.

Carruthers also predicted that demand would be there for green hydrogen once it begins production at scale, pointing out that of the world’s existing H2 output barely 1% is produced via electrolysis.

“That’s a hell of a first prize to go for,” said Carruthers. The ScottishPower executive also said moves to couple offshore wind and green hydrogen would accelerate a “blurring of the lines” between traditional electron and molecule-based energy groups.

“We previously as a company would not have been sitting planning large-scale ammonia production for shipping fuels, but now we are. There’s a crossover both ways,” Carruthers said.

Prove credibility

The need for offshore wind-powered hydrogen to rapidly prove its technical credibility – and then quickly move to gigawatt-scale – was heavily stressed by Poul Skjærbæk, chief innovation and product officer for Siemens Gamesa, who is leading the OEM giant’s plans to integrate H2 electrolysis directly into its largest new generation of turbines.

“We realised that we needed something scalable and reliable quickly,” said Skjærbæk, whose team aims to have a full-scale demonstrator unit operating with its 14MW turbine by 2026.

Skjærbæk told the roundtable that Siemens Gamesa had already identified “significant upsides both on efficiency and cost” of tying H2 production so closely to its power source.

But questioned on the key issues of cost-parity for green hydrogen – not just with H2 from unabated fossils but the blue variety from abated gas – Skjærbæk said speed and scale are of the essence.

“We simply do not have the same time to mature this as we had for the offshore [wind] industry… that’s why we decided to start very early,” said the Siemens Gamesa executive, with a “scale to gigawatts needed very quickly”.

The need for speed was further emphasised by Mark Leybourne, senior energy specialist at The World Bank, who is working on initiatives to kick-start offshore wind development in emerging economies.

There is a lot of interest from governments in marrying these technologies together.

“We can’t wait for a few decades [for the technology] to be mature and proven [before it rolls out to developing markets],” Leybourne told the Recharge panel.

The World Bank executive said that in all the specific markets his team are looking at “we’ve already started to consider the production of green hydrogen with offshore wind.

“There is a lot of interest from client governments in marrying these technologies together.”

Leybourne cited Sri Lanka as an example of a market where more offshore wind could potentially be built than is needed for local power consumption, “using he excess to make H2 and other green fuels for export using he excess to make H2 and other green fuels for export”.

A replay of the Recharge digital roundtable Offshore Wind & Green Hydrogen is available here.