WE NEED to think big and green about energy in our efforts to contain carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. Renewable energy should be generated where there is capacity (e.g. Ireland – wind, wave, tidal; Spain – thermal, Iceland – geothermal). The challenge faced by Europe and Ireland especially is how to increase the share of intermittent renewable energy – that, like wind, is not always present – to meet demand in North-West Europe. This is especially challenging when our electricity grid is at maximum capacity and where expanding grid capacity will require major capital cost.
This lack of grid capacity is the biggest limiting factor in increasing renewable-energy supply in Ireland both North and South. The grid cannot take more renewables. Rural and isolated communities face unique energy issues relating to efficiency, reliability and sustainability. This is commonly due to dependency on non-local and fossil-fuel energy supply, low electricity-grid capacity and limited or no connection to wider grids. As a result these communities have higher than average carbon emissions and are more vulnerable to fluctuating fuel prices.
Renewable energy sources continue to increase their share of installed capacity worldwide. In Ireland 42% of electricity should be from renewables by next year but in fact only around 30% will be. Integration of renewables, in conjunction with increased energy efficiency and other low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture and better energy storage (batteries), constitutes the best opportunity to achieve energy sustainability. They also constitute the best option to avert the risks that conventional non-renewable sources pose to health, geopolitics, the economy and the environment. As required by their commitments to the Paris Agreement of 2015, 175 parties have created national renewable energy action plans (NREAPs). These plans involve increasing renewable energy penetration targets for the electricity, heating and cooling, and transport, sectors. These three sectors alone account for 20%, 40% and 40% respectively of total end-use energy demand worldwide. And to shift from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a renewable one, there is a need for clean sustainable energy carriers.
Energy carriers allow renewable sources to supply different forms of energy demand across different sectors. Hydrogen is one of these carriers that has attracted much support from across many countries across the globe. In fact, it has the potential to become one of the main energy carriers of the future as it can be easily produced using renewable energy, stored using commercially available technologies and used throughout the entire energy system. The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, however, has been hindered by specific challenges that need to be addressed.
The Interreg North West Europe-funded project GenComm led by Belfast Metropolitan College is seeking to address the barriers preventing the greater integration of renewables into our energy matrix and to navigate a new energy pathway to energy security. GenComm (GENerating energy secure COMMunities); is a Smart Hydrogen-Integrated renewable energy, generation and storage project designed to develop a new model for exploiting generated electricity from renewable sources to provide energy security for remote communities. Every community in the NWE region (whether or not remote) consumes the big three: Power, Heat and Transportation Fuel. The GenComm project through three renewable energy pilot schemes, each producing hydrogen from a renewable source – Anaerobic Digestion, Solar and Wind – will demonstrate how hydrogen as an energy carrier can be the new energy pathway and overcome the current obstacles blocking greater utilisation of renewable energy in our energy consumption matrix.
The idea is to use the excess renewable energy, transforming and storing it as a Hydrogen Gas and then using this as an energy carrier for multiple uses within the energy-demand spectrum.
Hydrogen can be produced from renewable electricity through electrolysis. We can have safe, clean, reliable H2 energy storage in European communities. Learning from the experience with the plants, technical and financial models will be developed, ultimately making hydrogen a commercially viable and sustainable energy medium.