Ireland looks to green hydrogen to tap offshore wind potential

2 January, 2024

Renewable hydrogen is an energy carrier that can help Ireland achieve more sustainable development. Produced from renewable sources, green hydrogen generates zero CO2 emissions, making it a key clean fuel for the energy transition.

Ireland’s island status makes this option even more relevant for a country that can take advantage of the renewable energy storage and transport possibilities offered by this new energy vector.

Ireland’s strategy with green hydrogen

The Republic of Ireland presented its first national hydrogen strategy in July 2023 with the intention of producing enough renewable hydrogen for its own needs and for export.

The same document also highlights the possibility of blue hydrogen production from fossil gases with carbon capture and storage, but it is the vast offshore wind energy resources that will be the focus of efforts.

Renewable hydrogen is an energy vector that can help Ireland achieve more sustainable development

The strategy provides a roadmap that gives certainty to investors and the energy industry, which has set a target of 2 GW of offshore wind energy dedicated to producing green hydrogen by 2030. Environment and climate minister Eamon Ryan believes the country can achieve its goals of achieving a secure, carbon-neutral energy system and becoming an energy exporter with its excess renewable capacity.

The island is a recognised technological powerhouse, marked by innovation, which can help develop a solid hydrogen economy. At the same time, this leadership poses an energy and environmental challenge: the installation of data centres for the booming software industry, which require large amounts of electricity to operate, is growing steadily. Authorities have already turned their attention to this problem and in some cases, such as in County Offaly, feasibility studies are already underway to power data centres with green hydrogen – a key step towards ensuring the sustainability of the IT industry.

On the energy front, Ireland has a significant gas sector, thanks to several natural gas fields, which could allow the country to take advantage of all this infrastructure to develop the hydrogen sector by converting some of its storage facilities and pipelines. Projects already exist for hydrogen storage, such as “Green Hydrogen @ Kinsale”, a coastal storage facility in Cork that could hold the equivalent of 10% of the country’s current electricity consumption in a year.

Ireland launched its first national hydrogen strategy in July with the intention of producing enough renewable hydrogen for its own needs

However, as indicated in the Irish government’s national hydrogen strategy, the country has a different starting point than many other European countries where grey hydrogen (hydrogen from fossil fuels) is already produced and consumed. The challenge is therefore increased by having to develop and scale up a sector that currently does not exist, with no production sites and no end uses.

Boosting renewable energy in Ireland

However, significant efforts have been made in recent years to promote renewable energies. Ireland’s coastline is a prime location for wind farms and its waters are ideal for offshore wind farm production. The Irish west coast has more windy days than anywhere else in Europe, with an estimated minimum potential of 50 gigawatts of output.

The national strategy envisages taking the first steps in the use of renewable hydrogen in heavy transport, and although it does not specify immediate policy actions (such as subsidies or financial support), it does provide a roadmap with 21 actions up to 2030. These actions include the publication of likely locations for production sites or the development of business models to support the sector’s momentum, among others, in the hope that the country’s characteristics and competitive costs will boost the hydrogen economy on the island.

The benefits of green hydrogen in Ireland

The versatility of green hydrogen is an opportunity for a small country with a diversified economy. Renewable hydrogen is easy to store and has a high potential to decarbonise the sectors that are the most complex to electrify, such as heavy industry or logistics.

Production from renewable sources such as solar or wind energy makes green hydrogen 100% sustainable. It does not emit pollutant gases or waste during its production or use, it only emits water vapour. It is thus an exceptional ally in achieving the EU’s sustainability targets.

The country, for its part, also has its own plans to complete the EU’s vision for the future in this regard. Its ‘National Energy and Climate Plan’  details a number of actions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, including generating 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The versatility of green hydrogen is an opportunity for a small country with a diversified economy

In view of the above, projects are already underway. Bantry Bay is the location of one of these, which could be operational by 2028. With an estimated production capacity of 2.7 GW of renewable hydrogen in the first phase, and subsequently the production of green ammonia with part of this hydrogen.

Although the development of such projects is always complex, Ireland’s economic policy could be an advantage. The promotion of foreign investment is a priority for the Irish government, with bodies such as the Irish Development Agency (IDA) for the attraction of multinationals and start-ups.

The tax benefits may also be an attraction for a large number of foreign companies wishing to invest in a country where renewable hydrogen production can be very competitive from an economic point of view.

The importance of green hydrogen in Ireland

The production of green hydrogen for export is one of Ireland’s three strategic reasons for developing this sector, along with decarbonising the economy and strengthening energy security. Given that many European countries have identified the need to import renewable hydrogen to meet their own long-term decarbonisation needs, Ireland can position itself as a strategic market to source from, thanks to its vast wind energy resources.

Ireland can use green hydrogen to store renewable energy and thus ensure the independence of an energy system that is 77% dependent on fossil fuel imports. With enough wind capacity to power the entire country several times over, hydrogen is the best alternative to make the system more secure, affordable and sustainable.