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Nordic developers win state funding to tackle offshore wind bottleneck

16 September 2021 Cristina Brooks

Two Nordic offshore wind developers have staked out a path that could cut the cost of transporting power to consumers.

Danish developer Ørsted on 7 September announced it had received $6 million (€5 million) in EU funding to demonstrate electrolyzers for cheaply producing green hydrogen from offshore wind turbines in the UK.

The news followed a 2020 call for proposals from the EU's Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), which funds 19 hydrogen demonstration projects across Europe. The FCH JU called the electrolyzer research "the first step to commercial offshore hydrogen production."

Separately, state-owned Norwegian company Equinor on 3 September announced it won $10 million (NOK82.70) in state funding to experiment with subsea electric grids and cables for offshore wind in Norway.

Linking up with hydrogen in the UK

Ørsted will build offshore wind-integrated electrolyzer technology in a consortium with British electrolyzer manufacturer ITM Power, wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa, and consultancy Element Energy.

The megawatt-scale electrolyzer will be built shoreside in the English east coast town of Grimsby, but the consortium is mulling the use of a system that would be located offshore with pipelines that would bring green hydrogen to the shore.

Grimsby is where Ørsted has an operations and maintenance hub and is 89 km northeast of the 1.2-GW Hornsea One wind farm, for which the first phase was completed in January.

The use of hydrogen as a cost reducer for bringing renewable energy to demand centers without electric grid infrastructure has the potential to speed decarbonization, the company said in the statement.

The venture aims to create compact electrolysis systems that can tolerate harsh offshore environments, but even so, are low maintenance and low cost.

One of the aims of the study is to make renewable hydrogen competitive with natural gas, according to the FCH JU call for proposals.

Paired with a carbon tax, cheaper hydrogen from offshore wind might enable "bulk markets for green hydrogen" in the heating, industry, and transportation sectors, it said. This in turn could ease the use of renewable energy in those sectors.

The UK has its eye on industrial decarbonization with hydrogen, and is targeting 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, amid a broader net-zero goal. The UK government is currently carrying out a consultation on a subsidy framework for green and blue hydrogen producers.

Danish bid

On the day the electrolyzer study was announced, Ørsted said it had picked contractors ahead of competing in a tender for a separate, but similarly-focused project in Denmark.

Ørsted is bidding to develop one of two state-controlled artificial islands in the North and Baltic seas, which will be used for storage and distribution of power "on an unprecedented scale" from Danish offshore wind facilities, part of broader plans to shift from individual offshore wind farms to energy islands in Denmark by 2030.

The islands would enable Denmark, for example, to export cheap Danish offshore wind power to countries around the North Sea.

Such islands would also enable a further expansion of offshore wind while requiring fewer land-based power pylons, the Danish government said in its plan to meet its Paris Agreement obligations last year.

The pair of islands are set to be funded under a 2023 Danish state tender and site options for the islands are now under investigation, the government said in a July consultation paper.

The facilities may incorporate energy storage, electrolysis plants, and Power-to-X technologies, according to a paper by law firm DLA Piper.

The long-term aim is to store electricity that can be converted into green fuel like hydrogen for transportation via subsea pipelines to Denmark and other countries, the law firm said.

As a member state, Denmark can contribute to the EU target to install 40 GW of electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen by 2030, laid out in the EU's 2020 Hydrogen Strategy.

The European Commission is targeting installation of 300 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050, 25 times more than what the EU has today, in its offshore renewables strategy.

The goal means a parallel upscaling in distribution technologies is needed to move the power produced offshore to demand centers.

Innovative cables in Norway

Meanwhile, Equinor aims to study cheaper ways to connect offshore fixed and floating wind power to the grid in Norway.

The research, led by the Norwegian independent research organization SINTEF and supported by the state, is set to take place over three years.

One of the aims is to build a Norwegian industry supplying new cable designs, subsea technology, and floating converter stations, enabling the creation of green jobs and increased export revenues, Equinor said in the statement.

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