With oil and gas activity in the North Sea now well past its peak, Shetland is actively looking to renewables to power the islands and make a substantial contribution to the Shetland Islands economy as jobs and revenues from oil and gas production taper off in the years ahead.
Shetland has ambitious plans for the establishment of a hydrogen energy hub, producing blue and green hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, green hydrogen from the electrolysis of sea water using wind generated electricity. The ORION Clean Energy Project involves the Shetland Islands Council, OGTC and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and aims to use Shetland’s five to 10 gigawatts of offshore wind potential to power the production of hydrogen from seawater by electrolysis.
The idea is for the Isles to play a significant role in the decarbonisaiton of oil and gas production in the new fields to the west of Shetland, including Rosebank, Cambo and Claire South. Existing fields in the province, such as Ninian and Magnus, could also be included.
Shetland has always been entrepreneurial in seeking to derive the most benefit for the economy from the resources around it.
The Council took the decision in the early stages of oil and gas production in the North Sea to own the port of Sullom Voe and to be the land owner of the site of the Sullom Voe Terminal on behalf of the community, and to partner with BP and a consortium of major Oil companies in the development and use of the port.
Having had the good fortune to be geographically well placed to benefit from the opening up of oil production in the North Sea, the ORION partners recognise Shetland is also extremely well placed to benefit from the current drive by governments to move from oil and gas-driven electricity generation to renewables generation.
The Shetland Isles has long been disadvantaged by not having a connection to the UK mainland grid. Shetland makes use of a diesel driven power station in a grid that can only accommodate a small contribution from wind and tidal renewables generation.
However, it is having to think outside the box to solve the problem of how best to use the five to ten gigawatts of wind energy resource around its waters to reduce carbon, generate sustainable jobs and deliver affordable energy.
There is a new 600 MW interconnector being developed by Scottish and Southern energy to link Shetland to the mainland grid. However, that interconnector will not be sufficient to enable Shetland to export all the electricity it is going to be able to generate once the offshore wind farms are in place and operational.
The ORION clean energy hub offers a way out of this dilemma as green hydrogen could be produced on Shetland and exported perhaps via tanker ships from Sullom Voe or by repurposing gas pipelines. The project has caught the imaginations of many on the islands and is perfectly in keeping with both the UK and Scottish governments’ determination to make the recovery from the pandemic a ‘green recovery’.
Both hydrogen and renewable electricity generation are set to get a huge boost from the decision of both governments to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans within ten years.
Shetland has taken notice of research by Goldman Sachs that shows green hydrogen is set to be one of the key fuels of the future.
According to Goldman Sachs, by 2050 green hydrogen could be meeting up to a quarter of the world’s energy needs, and represents a viable alternative to fossil fuels and batteries. The industry around green hydrogen could be worth $12 trillion by 2050, the report says.
The need for the ORION Clean Energy Project is pressing, given Shetland is also home to the 103-turbine Viking onshore wind farm project, currently being built by SSE Renewables. When fully built out Viking will be the biggest onshore wind farm in the UK.
By December last year SSE Renewables was able to announce the project had led to in excess of £4.5 million being spent with local suppliers. More than 30 companies in Shetland are involved with the project, according to SSE Renewables director, Derek Hastings.
Another of the long-term innovative projects in Shetland is the tidal array project by Nova Innovation. It began deploying its next generation tidal array turbine in October on Nova’s tenth anniversary. The company has already achieved some stunning ‘firsts’ in Shetland, not least of which is the establishment in March this year of the first ever electric vehicle (EV) charge point fuelled entirely from a tidal energy source.
The point is on the scenic shores of Bluemull Sound, at Cullivoe harbour, on the island of Yell. Nova’s tidal turbines have been powering homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years and now the islanders’ vehicles can be powered purely by the tide.
Commenting on the transformation tidal turbines can make, Nova CEO Simon Forrest comments: “Our technology generates electricity from the immense power of the seas, and it is changing the way we power our lives –from how we make a cup of tea to how we travel.
“We now have the reality of tidal powered cars, which demonstrates the huge steps forward we are making in tackling the climate emergency and achieving net zero by working in harmony with our natural environment.”
Traditional combustion engine vehicles are responsible for around a fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK. In the push towards net zero, the Scottish Government has banned the sale of new cars powered solely by petrol or diesel by 2032, accelerating the need to develop new sources of clean energy to power vehicles.
For Shetland, however, this represents a sensible way of deploying surplus wind generated electricity.
The Nova project has received grant funding through Transport Scotland to install the EV charging infrastructure as part of the clean energy transition.
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