Giant Green Hydrogen Energy Islands To Host 100 Gigawatts Of Offshore Wind

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The offshore wind industry is expected to pick up steam over the next 25 years with 500 gigawatts in the water by 2050. As for where all those gigawatts will go that’s an open question. New onshore facilities and transmission lines will have to suck up all that power and hand it off to somebody, somewhere, and that means a whole new battle over land use. Or not, as the case may be. A new venture has emerged with an ambitious proposal to build uncork the looming bottleneck with a network of 10 offshore green hydrogen plants

A Green Hydrogen Love Letter From CIP To Global Offshore Wind Industry

The venture in question is a new business called Copenhagen Energy Islands. If that rings a bell, it should. The lead investor is Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, and they are no stranger to the pages of CleanTechnica. They also have a history of going where no renewable energy developer has gone before, one recent example being Estonia’s very first offshore wind farm, to be located in the Baltic Sea.

CIP anticipates that the Estonian project will weigh in at 1-1.5 gigawatts. That is pretty impressive for a one’s first offshore wind farm, especially considering that many offshore wind projects still measure themselves in megawatts. However, that is small potatoes compared to what’s in store.

The new Copenhagen Energy Islands venture hooks CIP up with investors from Europe and North America with the aiming of building 10 or so offshore renewable energy hubs, each with a capacity of about 10 gigawatts for a grand total of 100 gigawatts.

The locations are not set in stone yet, but the partners are already eyeing sites in the wind-busy North Sea and the Baltic Sea, which is also rapidly being developed for wind energy. Sites in South-East Asia are also in play.

Why An Island?

As Copenhagen Energy Islands explains it, the driving force behind the venture is scale, scale, and more scale.

They expect multi-gigawatt offshore wind farms to be the rule over the next ten years, and the wind industry will need more efficient systems for moving all that energy off the ocean and onto the shore.

“Major economies have plans to deploy more than 500 GW of offshore wind generation capacity by 2050,” CEI explains. “Meeting this goal will require deployment over the next 25 years of more than 10x the offshore wind generation installed in the past 35 years.”

The offshore wind industry has certainly demonstrated that it can scale up, but one thing it can’t do is undo the looming transmission bottleneck. That’s where the Energy Islands concept comes in.

“Today, the challenge for offshore wind is less about building the incremental offshore wind farm, but more how to integrate large-scale offshore wind energy into the global energy systems,” CEI explains.

And, that’s where green hydrogen comes in. Also referred to as power-to-gas, green hydrogen boots natural gas out of the hydrogen supply chain. Green hydrogen is produced from water by electrolysis. The idea is to deploy wind power (or any other renewable resource) to run the electrolysis equipment, thereby providing the global economy with a widely used, fossil-free gas for fuel, food systems, pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, refining, and other industrial processes.

Power-to-gas is a relatively new field but it is growing rapidly. CleanTechnica first came across the idea back in 2015. By 2020 the offshore wind connection was beginning to take shape, and global energy stakeholders were also starting to explore the idea of locating green hydrogen facilities at offshore wind farms.

As for why, that’s relatively straightforward in at least one respect. Wind farms generally overproduce at night when demand is low, leading grid operators to issue curtailment orders. If there was some industrial user hanging around at night to put those clean kilowatts to work that would solve the curtailment problem, and green hydrogen fits the bill.

To ice the green cake, the green hydrogen producer would also benefit from low off-peak electricity rates.

More to the Energy Islands point, green hydrogen can serve as an energy carrier that provides offshore wind power with a wider range of opportunities to connect with local and global energy markets. Unlike electricity, which requires a transmission cable, hydrogen can be transported to the shore from offshore wind farms by pipeline or ship. Green hydrogen can also serve as a storage medium to generate electricity from renewable resources when needed, in a gas turbine or a fuel cell as the case may be.

No, Really, Why An Island?

Of course, green hydrogen facilities can be located on land, but CEI makes a good case for building them offshore. Finding suitable sites on land is becoming increasingly difficult, and then there’s that pesky issue of transmission again.

As the firm describes them, the benefits of parking green hydrogen facilities at offshore wind farms include “a substantial reduction in power transmission costs, large-scale offshore green hydrogen production and related synergies between power and hydrogen production.”

By substantial, they mean substantial. CEI estimates that using a hydrogen pipeline to get energy from wind farms to shore is only about 20% of the cost of a high voltage direct current cable.

They also anticipate that deploying proven technologies at a large scale will help shave costs for their Energy Islands, along with relying on local supply chains that are already set up for offshore infrastructure projects.

“Energy islands combine existing, proven technologies in a new and innovative way and at a significantly larger scale, allowing for a cost-efficient build-out and integration of offshore wind,” CEI explains.

Power-to-gas is just the beginning, by the way. The latest thing is Power-to-X, which refers to electrofuels, ammonia and other products that can be made with green hydrogen.

What About The Water?

As for how an electrolysis system can run on seawater, that’s a good question. Conventional electrolysers deploy delicate membranes that can be quickly fouled by impurities in water.

Since CEI intends to use proven technologies, the most likely solution is to equip the energy islands with desalination systems. If that sounds expensive, it is, but work is afoot to bring down the cost of water pre-treatment systems.

Another pathway is to improve the electrolyzers themselves. That’s more of a long term solution, but it’s happening.

As for the global green hydrogen market, that’s complicated. Earlier this month a research team from the Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology published a study of green hydrogen and offshore wind activity in the North Sea over the next 35 years or so.

Their specific focus was on the development of offshore transmission hubs, with the green hydrogen production taking place on shore, not offshore. The primary use would be for onshore power generation.

That could give rise to some problems due to the relatively high cost of green hydrogen compared to natural gas. Nevertheless, the researchers anticipate that the flexible deployment of hydrogen could help dampen the overall impact on costs.

If CEI’s cost-cutting calculations pan out, the Energy Islands concept for offshore hydrogen production could also help with the dampening effect.

Another assist could come from the multi-use offshore wind farm trend, which was a hot topic of conversation around the 2023 Ocean Energy Conference at The Hague, with floating solar arrays and wave energy devices potentially in play.

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Image: New Copenhagen Energy Islands venture to establish green hydrogen production hubs for offshore wind farms.

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