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Press release: BIG HIT hydrogen to power Orkney transport and heating

European pilot project: Building Innovative Green Hydrogen systems in an Isolated Territory (BIG HIT)
EMEC has procured an electrolyser to convert power generated at its tidal test site in Orkney to hydrogen fuel.  Image: Fall of Warness tidal test site, Eday. Credit: Aquatera.

Image: EMEC Fall of Warness tidal test site, Eday. Credit: Aquatera.

Orkney has been chosen for the development of a new European-wide hydrogen project.

BIG HIT (Building Innovative Green Hydrogen systems in an Isolated Territory: a pilot for Europe) is a five-year project aimed at overcoming local grid constraints.

With over 50MW of installed wind energy capacity generating over 46 GWh per year of renewable power, Orkney has been a net exporter of electricity since 2013. However at present many of the islands’ wind turbines are often ‘curtailed’ due to local grid capacity restrictions, losing on average more than 30% of their annual output.

The BIG HIT project will see energy from the community-owned wind turbines on the islands of Shapinsay and Eday, two of the islands in the Orkney archipelago, used to produce hydrogen. The otherwise curtailed capacity will be used to produce low carbon ‘green’ hydrogen and oxygen using a 1MW Polymer-Electrolyte-Membrane (PEM) electrolyser.

BIG HIT will enable the deployment of 10 electric vans, each fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender, and the construction of a hydrogen refuelling station.

In order to demonstrate the potential scope hydrogen also has for heat uses in Orkney, BIG HIT will install two hydrogen-powered boilers at suitable premises to provide zero carbon heat.

BIG HIT builds on foundations laid by an initial £3m capital investment by EMEC in a 0.5MW electrolyser and the complementary Orkney Surf ‘n’ Turf initiative, which will see production of hydrogen on the island of Eday using tidal and wind energy.

These world leading pilot and demonstration projects aim to put in place a fully integrated model of hydrogen production, storage, transportation and utilisation for low carbon heat, power and transport. The projects address a number of operational and development challenges including the logistical and regulatory aspects for transport of hydrogen fuel between islands, and the orientation and familiarisation with new hydrogen building and transport technologies.

The BIG HIT project has been funded by the European Commission’s Fuel Cells Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH 2 JU). The FCH 2 JU selected BIG HIT as the only hydrogen project of its kind to receive funding, and €5 million has been allocated to the project, which has total estimated costs of €10.9 million.

BIG HIT participants

BIG HIT brings together 12 organisations spanning six EU countries:

Orkney Islands Council will be taking a significant part in the BIG HIT project, by providing 10 electric vans which will each be fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell. A hydrogen refuelling station will be constructed in or near to Kirkwall at a site still to be selected. These adapted vans will form part of the Council’s fleet – their hydrogen fuel cells will give them a wider range than their battery-powered electric counterparts. As part of demonstrating the potential scope hydrogen has for practical uses in Orkney, the Council also intends to install small hydrogen-powered boilers at two of its premises.

Gavin Barr, the Council’s Executive Director of Development and Infrastructure, said: “BIG HIT has the potential to reduce costs to the Council whilst maximising a sustainable resource which is readily available locally and currently being underutilised due to our lack of connectivity to the national grid. BIG HIT will build on what is being achieved through Surf ‘n’ Turf and communities can look forward to hearing more about the project as it evolves.”

Shapinsay Development Trust works to secure the future of the resilient island community of about 300 people in Shapinsay, one of the many inhabited islands in the Orkney archipelago. Shapinsay islanders are empowered and resourced by the efforts of the Trust in whose work many of them are intimately involved as trustees, volunteers or employees.

Service Manager Nic Thake said: “BIG HIT offers an opportunity for Shapinsay to address the curtailment of its community owned turbine in a way that helps demonstrate an innovative energy option that will be available to island groups in the future. This project offers a glimpse of a sustainable future where small islands can provide their own integrated transport, heat and power system by deploying their own generational capacity. We are proud to be part of this project and, small as we are, look forward to working with partners to achieve its aims.”

Community Energy Scotland (CES) is a registered Scottish charity and has been at the forefront of community energy developments in Scotland. CES has been leading the Surf ‘n’ Turf project – funded by the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund – which will work closely with BIG HIT.

CES Project Manager in Kirkwall, Mark Hull, said: “CES’s Kirkwall team is looking forward to working with local partners and companies from across Europe to scale up hydrogen as a clean fuel that helps keep the value of Orkney’s renewable energy close to home. In particular, it’s great to welcome a second community generator – and another CES member – into the hydrogen network that Surf ‘n’ Turf has established.”

European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) is the first and only centre in the world to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters with purpose-built open-sea testing facilities, and is preparing to install a 0.5MW electrolyser at it’s Fall of Warness tidal test site. This will be used in the Surf ‘n’ Turf project.

Neil Kermode, Managing Director of EMEC said: “Hydrogen is a really useful product, and BIG HIT is building on the work started on Eday with the Surf ‘n’ Turf project. Once you have made hydrogen you can do many different things with it, including heating and transport. By innovating around local grid constraints using hydrogen we are opening up huge new markets.”

Calvera specialises in the manufacture of storage and transport systems for compressed gas, and particularly hydrogen for high pressure. The company has provided bespoke systems for 30 years to industrial and medical gas companies and is a certified official supplier to these organisations. Calvera is composed of 2 production facilities, with a workforce of 60 people, and provides turnkey solutions including European approvals. In addition, the company maintains and refurbishes gas transport systems.

Giacomini is a leader in the field of components for heating and cooling, and has been involved for more than 10 years in the field of hydrogen as renewable energy source using an innovative condensing boiler based on a hydrogen catalytic burner.

ITM Power is an energy storage and clean fuel company committed to clean sustainable energy solutions based on water electrolysis using Polymer-Electrolyte-Membrane (PEM) technologies. ITM Power will be providing the project’s electrolyser, the hydrogen refuelling station and will be conducting much of the safety analysis.

Dr Graham Cooley, CEO, ITM Power commented: “BIG HIT is a major step in turning the Orkney Islands into a genuine Hydrogen Territory. The deployment of 1.5 MW of electrolysis and the operation of hydrogen logistics to provide a transport fuel and renewable heat is a very important step.”

Symbio FCell is the European leader in hydrogen fuel cell systems designed for the transportation markets.

Fabio Ferrari, CEO, Symbio FCell commented: “BIG HIT will demonstrate the huge value of a full hydrogen ecosystem, a comprehensive environmental-friendly value chain that provides energy independence, cogeneration of renewable heat and electricity, as well as zero emission solutions for sustainable mobility and transportation.”

Danmarks Tekniske Universitet (Technical University of Denmark, DTU) is one of Europe’s foremost technical universities with world class expertise in fuel cells, electrolysis, hydrogen storage and related technologies.

Centre Manager, Eva Ravn Nielsen from DTU Energy and FCH Test Center comments: “It is exciting to contribute to the demonstration of a hydrogen society in the Orkney Islands. We need these new technologies to balance the future energy system with increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy.”

Scottish Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) is the sector body for the development and deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in Scotland.

Nigel Holmes, CEO of SHFCA said: “BIG HIT is another important step for developing low carbon energy systems capability in Scotland, and we are delighted to be part of this Europe wide team. BIG HIT demonstrates the important role of hydrogen and fuel cells for realising additional local benefits from renewable energy, and this great project will help many other islands and communities to achieve similar benefits.”

The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) promotes and develops the transport sector in Malta by means of proper regulation and by the promotion and development of related services, businesses and other interests, both locally and internationally. MIT will act as the lead follower territory for project replication.

The Foundation for the Development of New Hydrogen Technologies in Aragon (FHa) is a non-profit private entity founded in 2003 to carry out the organization, management and deployment of a wide range of actions with the purpose of promoting the use of the hydrogen as an energy vector. Based in Huesca, Spain, its team of experienced professionals performs R&D as well as consultancy projects, in cooperation or assisting local, national and international companies, contributing to their industrial modernisation and to improve their competitiveness.

Supported by:








Aquamarine Power


Atlantis Resources Corporation



Naval Group

Naval Group


Open Hydro


Orbital Marine




ScottishPower Renewables



Sustainable Marine Energy

Sustainable Marine Energy


Voith Hydro


Wello Oy

Supported by: