Exploring P2H futures in the North Sea using spatially explicit, techno-economic modelling

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Hydrogen, as a fuel, will soon play a key role in helping economies transition to more sustainable practices. Having always garnered attention due to its non-polluting nature, the costs associated with its production have stood in the way of it being more widely used in society. Since the cost of clean energy to produce hydrogen is one of the main reasons the current price is so high, locations with a high renewable potential are being looked at as a means to drive production prices down, benefiting from higher capacity factors at these locations. With near ideal offshore wind resources, the North Sea is one such location. This thesis aims to explore the potential of this resource to deliver future hydrogen and to a larger extent, EU TFEC demand in 2050. The main research question therefore asks: “What is the future potential of P2H in the North Sea , from a spatially explicit, techno-economic perspective” The analysis first explored the cost of different production configurations, mainly comparing the production of hydrogen onshore (via electricity transmitted over HVDC- high voltage direct current cables), offshore (after transmitting to shore via a pipeline) and in offshore wind turbines (again, after transmission to shore in a network of pipelines). The analysis then used GIS data to analyze the production potential in the North Sea by taking exclusion zones into account. A mapping model was therefore developed to estimate theoretical and practical yield potentials in steps of 5 years, until 2050. Supply curves and maps were then generated to paint a picture of P2H supply pathways in the North Sea. One of the designated research goals in the thesis was to offer a comparative analysis between the three P2H configuration types, mentioned above. The results show a clear preference in favor of the In Turbine configuration which is followed by the offshore configuration and finally the onshore type. The hierarchy was mainly influenced by the conversion chain losses in the three configurations, with the In Turbine configuration having the lowest losses, followed by the offshore and then the onshore types. Model results show a higher sensitivity to sea depth than transmission distance to shore for all three configuration types up till the fixed to floating transition point, after which the sensitivity to depth is reduced. The In Turbine and offshore configurations were however, predictably less sensitive to transmission distance than the onshore configuration since H2 pipeline investment costs for large delivery capacities are almost negligible in comparison to HVDC electricity transportation. Fishing zones, shipping zones, nature conservation zones and current wind farms were considered as exclusionary constraints in the model. This was done to test the influence of maritime spatial planning on both yield and costs in the North Sea. The total restricted and unrestricted yield potentials from the in-turbine configuration with the least losses were 15.8 and 24.18 EJ respectively. This represents 47% and 72% of EU total final energy consumption (TFEC) in 2050. The (Power to Hydrogen) P2H supply pathways were finally compared to a conventional HVDC (Power to Electricity) P2E supply routes for the North Sea and interestingly, a few offshore and all in-turbine P2H locations become cheaper than P2E in the North Sea area between 2040-2050. This begs the question: ‘What is the best/most cost effective supply pathway that leads us to a decarbonized energy system by 2050’. The results in this study indicate that careful consideration needs to be given to the best possible production pathways, particularly, in the North Sea.