Blog: On the value of international collaboration
With a roster of clients and partner organisations stretching from Oregon in the United States to Shandong in China, at EMEC we are no strangers to working internationally. Marine energy and hydrogen technologies offer energy system solutions with applicability globally, as we move to address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the aftermath of COP26, which brought a global audience to Glasgow – and indeed plenty of welcome visitors to the shores of Orkney – we have been reflecting on the vital role that international collaboration has and will continue to play in our hydrogen innovation.
Two of our flagship hydrogen innovation projects are inherently collaborative and European in scope.
BIG HIT, funded by the European Commission’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), brought together a consortium from six European countries to test and demonstrate hydrogen supply technologies as well as systems designed to use hydrogen to provide clean transport and heat.
Our ITEG project is funded by Interreg North-West Europe, a European Regional Development Fund programme. With partners from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, we are developing control systems to efficiently produce hydrogen from a tidal power input.
Both projects draw upon sector-leading solutions at the cutting edge of hydrogen innovation in their respective countries. French manufacturer Elogen will deliver a state-of-the-art 500 kW electrolyser for the ITEG project, which will be capable of ramping up and down flexibly to take advantage of variable renewable generation. We have also played host to innovative light-weight and mobile hydrogen storage trailers developed by Spanish company Calvera in BIG HIT, which were specially designed to comply with road conditions in Orkney.
The ITEG and BIG HIT project consortia have developed an improved shared understanding of optimised working practices associated with deploying, operating, controlling and maintaining hydrogen equipment in Orkney. Much of this work is dedicated to the essential work of ensuring safe operations. Sharing these lessons across national borders is vital to develop solutions with global promise.
We are working to pay forward the support we’ve received from elsewhere in Europe by sharing lessons learned in the development of Orkney hydrogen projects with those who are seeking to follow with their own hydrogen innovation.
Notably through the Hydrogen Energy Applications for Valley Environments in Northern Netherlands (HEAVENN) and Green Hysland projects, we are playing a small role in advising the project leads on pitfalls which may be avoided in their efforts to develop hydrogen roadmaps for the northern Netherlands region and the island of Mallorca, respectively. One of our main observations in Orkney relates to the challenges for regulators in keeping their frameworks up to date in the face of rapid technological developments, and the difficulties for early adopters in adhering to old regimes which are no longer fit for purpose. Using this experience, we have flagged possible means of mitigating regulatory barriers to both consortia and have especially stressed the need for early and proactive engagement with regulators in the planning phase of real-world innovation projects. We hope that our experience can smooth the path for these exciting developments elsewhere.
Like BIG HIT, both projects are funded by the FCH JU, and both bring together large, multinational consortia to share best practice and leading innovative solutions from across the continent. These initiatives are already spear-heading wide reaching efforts to develop regional hydrogen development plans across Europe, and will undoubtedly contribute to de-risking future fully commercial projects by improving confidence in the underpinning technologies. We look forward to supporting these developments in the coming years, while also learning from them to inform the next steps for our own projects in Orkney.
In 2021, we also had the privilege of leading a study commissioned by the Scottish Government to evaluate opportunities to better support collaborative innovation activities at the floating wind and hydrogen interface, with a focus on the French market. This study, delivered with our partners Renewable Consulting Group and INNOSEA, made a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government regarding the best means of facilitating greater joint working between supply chains in Scotland and France. Key outcomes for the project included observations that challenges faced by technology and project developers in France are shared by those in Scotland. The required maintenance of floating wind and hydrogen facilities located far offshore in Scottish or French waters will be equally challenging, for example, and innovative solutions will be required to bring forward improved ways to do this effectively and safely.
Likewise, the opportunities for developing and deploying these technologies are huge in both Scotland and France. The deep waters and high wind resource off the Scottish and French coasts represent a shared opportunity for floating wind, and a shared integration challenge in terms of how to effectively use the vast supplies of power which could be generated in the future. Due to these shared characteristics, innovative solutions developed in France will have applicability here in Scotland, and likewise in reverse. In addition, like Scotland, there is a well-developed offshore engineering supply chain and skills base in France, often with complementary capability, which has grown to service the traditional energy sectors. These suppliers will be well placed to support emerging floating wind and offshore hydrogen projects, and policy ambitions to see these organisations re-focus in delivering a “Just Transition” are as keenly felt in France as they are in Scotland. In our stakeholder engagement activities in the project, we also recorded a great willingness among French and Scottish supply chains to work together on realising the ambitions for these vital energy system components in the future.
It is with this spirit that we engage in all our international collaborations, in pursuit of the development of a globally successful green hydrogen economy as part of a resilient, clean energy system. We recognise fundamentally that the solutions we are researching can be applied elsewhere, especially in other islanded contexts, and that our work can have further impact if we share what we have learned, while being equally open to learning from others. These joint endeavours are vital in developing shared understanding and recognition in standards and in regulation, so that when promising solutions are developed, they can also be adopted in other countries and geographies, for the benefit of all.
Dr James Walker
Hydrogen Development Manager