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Multi-million £ steps are being taken towards achieving the aim of making the Western Isles a producer of hydrogen, seen as a major fuel to support a sustainable future. 

Systems, engineering and technology company, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, has been appointed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to assess the technical and commercial feasibility of developing a '100 per cent Green Hydrogen Hub' on the Outer Hebrides. 

The study is jointly funded by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, EDF Energy and the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme.

The Outer Hebrides has an abundant wind resource, but current supporting systems and energy infrastructure are not enabling the islands to take full advantage of the wind energy potential. Producing hydrogen would give a local use for locally generated electricity which is presently cut off from mainland use. 

The local energy system is currently dominated by expensive imported liquid fossil fuels, which are widely used for heating and transport. This has resulted in higher energy costs than the rest of the UK, and resilience challenges as, during poor weather, supply may be disrupted.

Frazer-Nash Hydrogen Lead, Stephen Livermore, says: “Low-carbon hydrogen is part of the UK and EU’s energy strategy and has the potential for significant future growth. Hydrogen networks can be particularly advantageous when acting in combination with large, but variable, sources of generation, especially onshore and offshore wind – and the wind resource in the Outer Hebrides is among some of the best in Europe.

“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has commissioned several studies and demonstrator projects to advance a hydrogen economy in the Outer Hebrides, which have provided a baseline of local knowledge and capability.

“It now wants to draw this knowledge and technology together into a hydrogen hub, located at Stornoway Port Authority’s new £50m Deep Water Port, and Frazer-Nash, with its project partners E4tech and Almaas Technologies, has been asked to deliver a feasibility study of the concept, to help in creating a commercial, technical and economic case for the hub.

“Developing a 100% Green Hydrogen Hub on the Isle of Lewis has many potential commercial and technical benefits and could help decarbonise its whole energy and transport systems. It could help increase the islands’ resilience to weather patterns, offer significant employment and skills development opportunities, and even provide the potential for the export of excess hydrogen.

“As part of our work we’ll also be engaging with the community, to explore their views on hydrogen energy. We’ll shortly be delivering the business case for hydrogen, with the feasibility study scheduled for completion by the end of March.”

Leader of the Comhairle, Councillor Roddie Mackay, said,“If the ingredients for the manufacture of green hydrogen are wind and water, we have an abundance of both here in the islands.  With hydrogen being used locally or exported to European markets, there are no crippling electricity grid costs and our strong, consistent wind speeds, ample water supply and availability of community owned land for wind farms makes the Outer Hebrides the most cost-efficient location in the UK to manufacture ‘green’ hydrogen. 

“This is also a great opportunity for our grid constrained community generators who can direct their product to on-island hydrogen manufacture as an alternative to costly grid export." 

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has welcomed the announcement yesterday (Monday 21 Dec) that the hydrogen sector in Scotland is to receive £100m support over the next five years.

The Scottish Government hydrogen policy statement will ensure support for a green recovery and transition to a net-zero economy.

Audrey MacIver, HIE’s director of energy and low carbon, said the Highlands and Islands is well placed to benefit from hydrogen production. She added:“We have the natural resource required through onshore and offshore wind as well as wave and tidal. 

“The development of a strong hydrogen economy could create economic benefits for businesses, communities and our workforce. Many businesses could also benefit from switching to hydrogen use for their production, which would contribute to the transition to a carbon neutral economy. 

“We very much welcome publication of the Scottish Government’s hydrogen policy statement and look forward to working with businesses and stakeholders across the Highlands and Islands to explore exciting new opportunities likely to arise from this.”

The government’s ambition is for Scotland to become a leading hydrogen nation, generating 5GW of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 – enough to power the equivalent of 1.8 million homes.

Economic impact research suggests the industry has the potential to be worth up to £25bn a year to the Scottish economy by 2045.

Producing hydrogen emits no carbon dioxide. It can be used as an alternative to natural gas to transfer and store energy and could replace fossil fuels in industrial processes, internal combustion engines and homes.