A firm specialising in grid balancing services has unveiled plans to develop a massive 3GW green hydrogen project in the north of Scotland, potentially meeting a third of the UK’s low carbon H2 target on its own.
The Kintore Hydrogen scheme in Aberdeenshire, northeast Scotland, would power its electrolysers with Scotland’s expansive wind generation, some of which has to be curtailed at significant cost to consumers at times of low demand, and to keep the grid stable.
Developer Statera, which is backed by global infrastructure fund InfraRed Capital Partners, has secured match funding from the UK government’s Net Zero Hydrogen Fund for project development of the first 500MW.
The UK will pay 50% of the costs of the front-end engineering and design (FEED), planning and consent work for the first phase of Kintore, with final investment decision scheduled for 2025 after the design work is completed in 2024.
Expansion to 3GW would follow by 2030, Statera said, which would account for 30% of the UK’s 10GW low carbon hydrogen target by that date.
The company did not disclose the full capital expenditure required for either phase.
Hydrogen produced at the plant would be used in Statera’s grid-balancing gas-fired power plants throughout the UK — it currently has 150MW of operational capacity across three locations in England, as well as a big 600MW gas plant in development in south east England — as well as in the UK’s industrial clusters.
It would be delivered via the UK’s existing gas grid network — apparently as a blended mix with fossil gas, which would likely allow the use of H2 in Statera’s existing gas turbines. Most gas turbines can manage up to 20% hydrogen in methane feed gas.
However, some industrial customers require pure hydrogen, which would limit the project’s customer base in the clusters, and blending has been found to increase the cost of energy to consumers without a corresponding uplift in carbon savings.
In fact, the UK government has already said that H2 blending will have a limited and temporary role in the gas grid.
But a key appeal of the project for officials is that it could relieve pressure on Scotland’s already constrained electricity grid. According to power grid operator National Grid, wind farm operators have been in receipt of around £900m ($1.1bn) in curtailment payments — which are passed on to consumers via their energy bills — since 2017, with the figure expected to rise to £2.6bn by 2026.
The H2 could also be used for long-duration energy storage.
“Kintore Hydrogen can play a critical role both in alleviating grid constraints and acting as a long duration energy store beyond the expected capabilities of battery storage and pumped hydro,” said Julian Leslie, head of networks and chief engineer at National Grid. “It provides an opportunity to reduce whole system costs whilst also contributing to the decarbonisation of the country’s energy network and maintenance of the UK’s energy security system.”
Some experts have warned that relying solely on intermittent renewables that would otherwise have been curtailed could affect the efficiency of electrolyser operation, and push up the end cost of green H2.
But the sheer volume of Scotland’s curtailed wind power could make a case for using co-located electrolysers. In fact, around 80% of all the UK’s curtailed wind power is in Scotland.