Momentum is building to scale up green hydrogen production in the Middle East, writes Ian Spencer.
Momentum is building to scale up green hydrogen production in the Middle East and capitalise on rapidly increasing solar and wind capacity as the potential to support industrial decarbonisation and create a new export economy is better understood.
For decades, the vast reserves of oil and gas which Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE possess have driven the Middle East’s growth as a global economic powerhouse. While the move away from fossil fuels is one of the biggest challenges facing the region if it is to maintain that position, there is little doubt that decisive action on hydrogen is needed.
There is clear evidence across the region of buy-in to hydrogen’s potential, epitomised by Saudi Arabia’s stated aim of becoming a leading global supplier of hydrogen. Plans are already in motion for a multi-billion dollars production plant in the country’s north western region, with a daily production target of 650 tonnes of green hydrogen, planned to be on stream by 2026.
This momentum in the Middle East and other regions is driving a consistently upwards annual ‘re-write’ of projections for global green hydrogen capacity in the next decade. This is a clear indicator of market dynamism, driven by an increased understanding of both the applications and opportunities that green hydrogen offers.
Abundance of natural resources is crucial – the region’s already established solar and wind energy projects and, in particular, the low cost of solar energy, mean it has a strong competitive advantage in being able to produce green hydrogen from readily available renewable energy sources. Hydrogen also addresses the intermittent nature of solar and wind production, so that electricity generation can be matched with demand, with hydrogen’s storage capabilities solving the problem of gaps in supply.
Over the last decade, renewables in the Middle East and North Africa have doubled to 40 gigawatts (GW). The $3.9 billion Noor Energy 1 project currently under construction in Dubai, part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, will be the world’s largest single-site concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, generating 700MW of CSP and 250MW of photovoltaics. The Sudair Solar power plant in Riyadh, the largest of its kind in Saudi Arabia, will boast a total generation capacity of 1.5GW.
In the wind sector, a site in the UAE’s Hajar Mountains has been identified as the ideal location for the UAE’s first wind farm and is expected to have a capacity of 28MW while Saudi Arabia’s 400-megawatt wind farm project, the largest in the Middle East, is currently being developed by a consortium which includes EDF Renewables and Masdar.
Furthermore, the region’s location between Europe and Asia provides another strategic advantage, giving it the ability to service both markets. And, of course, decades of expertise and experience in exporting traditional energy resources means there are already strong routes into the global market for the hydrogen it aims to produce.
The UAE epitomises the ambitious approach with at least seven hydrogen-related projects under way with work having begun on construction of their first hydrogen plant and strategic alliances being formed. But getting the right cost model is crucial to success.
Green hydrogen can be produced wherever you have sufficient supplies of power and water, but the challenge comes in producing and distributing hydrogen cost effectively and securing offtake in a nascent market. We’re already applying Getech’s expertise in geoscience and geospatial analysis to a variety of hydrogen projects in the UK and Europe. But this is a global opportunity, and we see the Middle East as an ideal location for extending its use, by applying our expertise in network and hub approach.
In the UK, we are building a national network of hydrogen hubs which focus on creating scalable long term clean energy solutions to reduce transport emissions, benefit the planet, and deliver local economic transformation.
We have recently reached a significant milestone by signing an agreement with Highland Council in Scotland to establish a world class regional hydrogen network across the Highlands. The aim of the partnership is to deliver a regional plan for a network of green hydrogen hubs which will place hydrogen production, storage, and delivery infrastructure at optimal locations across the region. The first hub, located in Inverness, will have a capacity expected to scale to eight tonnes of hydrogen per day.
We are also establishing a green hydrogen hub at Shoreham Port in West Sussex for the development of all port-based hydrogen, ammonia, and new onshore wind and solar power generation capacity. As well as the port’s fuel and energy demand, industries operating in and around the port, including gas-fired power generation, timber and steel handling, and water treatment projects, are also potential customers for the hub’s hydrogen and renewable power.
The key to these and other projects we are developing is our ability to optimise production.
By identifying the best locations, we can help to deliver a business model based on the most effective use of renewable energy and the most efficient green hydrogen production.
Getech’s geospatial expertise quantifies the best possible locations for generation, storage, and distribution to our customers. That, in turn, allows us to drive costs as low as possible, which we can pass along as a lower cost fuel. Our distributed, network driven approach naturally minimises costly transportation by bringing production closer to demand.
Our business is driven towards identifying opportunities which are highly scalable, so that the initial upfront investment is as efficient as possible, but projects can be scaled up as demand grows. One of the key challenges will be supporting the Middle East’s transition away from reliance on grey hydrogen to clean green hydrogen, particularly in industrial applications such as chemicals, cement, and iron and steel manufacturing.
What is possibly less well understood about hydrogen is the value of convenience. As a society, we are naturally focused on decarbonising as far as possible with minimal costs, but as the cost of hydrogen vehicles comes down and infrastructure is built, hydrogen’s convenience and speed of refuelling will place pressure on battery technology. Hydrogen vehicles require very little behavioural change versus current petrol or diesel refuelling – taking only a matter of minutes – that’s another big advantage for operators of high utilisation vehicles (not just heavy vehicles) that can’t afford to be idle for long periods of time. Ask any electric vehicle taxi driver how they feel about battery charging versus the three minutes refuel they used to have!
A strategic network approach of green hydrogen hubs across the Middle East would deliver the positioning to secure the green hydrogen prize, helping the Middle East meet net zero and, along with large scale production, unlock its export potential.