Hydrogen in Ireland – Current Situation
‘poles apart’ but linked by a common need
Two islands at the opposite ends of the island of Ireland are making energetic strides in the face of the COVID-19 crisis to develop a new green hydrogen energy strategy for a new decade.
Rathlin Island off the coast of Co Antrim and Valentia Island off the coast of Co Kerry are both committed to seeing a green hydrogen future that even includes ‘green ferries’ operating to both islands. It has been said, if you focus on sustainability, the business can gain, and there are environmental and financial benefits, it is all interlinked.
“COVID-19 has shown the public quite clearly how we are damaging our planet, since lockdown and with the reduction in transport and industry, there has been a marked improvement in air quality… We need to ensure we do not revert… That will involve new thinking around travel and energy.”
Both islands are in tune with each other in what they want next. There has been a desire to move Rathlin Island towards carbon neutrality.
In the coming years, the community has aspirations to explore options around retrofitting the ‘Rathlin Express’ passenger ferry with hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen storage tanks, and electric drives. There is a need to secure a hydrogen supplier to meet the potential demand from the ferry. A pilot of hydrogen-powered vehicles on Rathlin Island and a new identity for the East Lighthouse on the island are all envisaged.
Rathlin Development & Community Association (RDCA) is very open to the envisaged ‘green’ future with Michael Cecil, Chair of the RDCA, saying: “Our roadmap outlines our ambitions around H2 and this includes a plant producing green H2 in the short to medium term, that is very much part of the plan. Yes, our desire is to develop green ferries coupled with an island green transport all linked back to wind energy and an associated H2 plant can become a tourist and education attraction in its own right.”
Decarbonization is on the agenda in Valentia Island too. In January 2020, the Valentia Energy Co-Operative was formally registered. There are wider questions around how the co-operative make a feasibility study, and the GenComm project Decision Support Tool (DST) allows us these plans to come to fruition.
Colum O’Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Energy Group, explains the direction the group proposes saying: “The people of Valentia recognize the global challenge around carbon reduction. They also recognize the opportunities that may become available which enable energy independence and high-value employment…”
Likewise, Valentia Island, like the rest of Kerry has a huge dependency on the tourism sector. “This is one of the reasons we are looking to develop a hydrogen-based economy so that we can create employment opportunities to diversify away from tourism type employment.”
Decarbonization can take shape in many ways on Valentia Island. The initial focus is to decarbonize the heating systems. The energy master plan identified that 40% of consumers use oil or gas, while 20% consumes carbon-intensive turf or coal. Hydrogen can provide an achievable transition path for decarbonizing this area.
“The ferry is a key service to the community of Valentia Island. Our ferry is due for replacement and a hydrogen fuel vessel would complement our decarbonization strategy. We have seen funding models for such vessels in Orkney and Norway, and we see no reason why this model cannot be repeated in Valentia Island.”
These two islands, Rathlin and Valentia, may be 395 miles apart but their peaceful atmosphere together with their histories attracts many visitors. Both have small native populations in their hundreds, both have a ferry, and both were communication leaders. Valentia was the eastern terminus of the first commercially viable transatlantic cable. Rathlin was where the first commercial wireless telegraphy link was established.
(left) A memorial to mark the laying of the first permanent communications link between Europe and the Americas ‘transatlantic cable’, Valentia Island, Ireland. (right) A memorial to commemorate the first commercial wireless telegraphy, Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland.
Now in 2020, both strive for energy security, low carbon economies, and sustainable tourism based on green hydrogen. The key strategic objective is to use green hydrogen as a catalyst for future proof of the islands socially, economically, and environmentally viability. The rugged features and the distinct history does not hide a new ambition to be trendsetters for the rest of the remote communities in Europe to follow.
RDCA and the Rathlin Development Community Association want to develop their green energy initiative and have posted a partner search on the H2020 call ‘Decarbonising Islands Using Renewable Energies and Hydrogen-H2 Islands’. The scope of such a project covers the complete value chain of H2 (production, transport, storage, distribution) to decarbonize an island. The solution should provide energy flexibility and improve the island system resilience through the use of renewable hydrogen, acting as a buffer.
Indeed, it beggars the question can the island indirectly help build a more competitive Northern Ireland energy market? Michael Cecil, Chair of the RDCA, is positive saying: “We have always seen islands as microcosms of wider society. Projects like green H2 production, storage, and distribution are challenging in remote locations, if an island can achieve this with its limitations then, anywhere can.”
Colum O’Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Energy Group, tells of their particular journey, “Our priorities right now are very much focused on getting funding for a pilot program to commence producing hydrogen. This comes off the back of a strong foundation of analysis, documentation, and community support…”
“We see green H2 as a sustainable fuel across the Island, everything from our lifeline ferries, cars and commercial transport, domestic and commercial heating systems – all of which bring our carbon footprint closer to zero.”
Mobility, heating, marine are all areas that can benefit, and as Colum O’Connell explains that is not all: “Tourism is an integral part of our local economy and developing a tourism-friendly channel is key for us. We have structured the energy co-op so that an education stream can be created. This stream will look to develop a ‘Cool Planets’ Experience, which will build an educational experience on sustainable energy. This can be a link to the Ecotourism sector.”
Innovation in the energy world is alive and well on these two islands.
Coming soon… More updates of the Energy Co-op Ireland strategy for Hydrogen implementation.
The Case of an Empowered Comunity
The Valencia Island community in Co. Kerry has completed a hydrogen feasibility study for the island.
The community-led project aims to produce clean energy by installing floating solar PV locally in order to produce hydrogen for the pilot project that will heat a small number of homes, fuel vehicles and hopefully in the future the island’s ferry. The project takes its inspiration from Scotlands’ Orkney islands’ ongoing surf and turf project where islanders can refuel their hydrogen vehicles locally.
At a hydrogen event entitled ’How Valentia can enable Irish communities to make the energy transition’ which was held on the island in 2019, Ms. Elizabeth Johnson from Shetland spoke of the real-life application of Hydrogen from renewable energy. She told of her involvement in the highly successful community-based Surf ‘n Turf Hydrogen project in the Orkney Islands, which has been developing since 2016.
At the same event, Cormac Walsh of Energy Co-operatives Ireland, who authored the communities Hydrogen Feasibility study said
Valentia Island Community Hydrogen Event.