BIG HIT Creates Exemplar ‘Hydrogen Islands’ Energy System for Orkney

Today the official opening of BIG HIT took place in Kirkwall, the Orkney Islands, bringing together communities, industry, and politicians who are all working together to deploy one of Europe’s leading energy systems. BIG HIT will enable more renewable energy to be produced and used locally in the Orkney Islands of Scotland and also support similar deployments more widely.

This ‘Building Innovative Green Hydrogen Systems in an Isolated Territory’ (BIG HIT) project is a major first step towards creating a genuine hydrogen territory in the Orkney Islands. BIG HIT has been widely recognised as the leading project of its kind in Europe. BIG HIT is a five-year project, involving 12 participants based across six EU countries, funded by the EU FCH JU. The Orkney Islands of Scotland were chosen for this development because of the need to store excess renewable energy and utilise the stored energy locally for transport and heat.

The BIG HIT project provides a blue print for renewable hydrogen deployment for island systems and new hydrogen territories. This will benefit communities and businesses who want to use more locally generated renewable energy.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We are very supportive of the BIG HIT initiative because it will help alleviate grid constraints in the Orkney Islands by enabling excess renewable energy generated locally, but what cannot be transmitted to the mainland to be stored and used to produce hydrogen. As a versatile and low carbon energy solution, hydrogen therefore has the great potential to play an important role in transport, heating, and industry. “This innovative project will add to our growing understanding of the potential role of hydrogen in Scotland’s future energy system, as identified in Scotland’s Energy Strategy which I published in December. “The Scottish Government has already supported a number of world-leading hydrogen demonstration projects, such as; the Orkney Surf‘n’Turf project; and the introduction of zero emission hydrogen buses and hydrogen refuelling stations in Aberdeen.”

Orkney Islands Council Leader James Stockan said: “Orkney is at the heart of the BIG HIT project, which aims to demonstrate how hydrogen produced locally using renewable energy can be used sustainably in ways which benefit islands and other remote communities. Our community is the ideal test bed for this important initiative. The Council has ambitions to become carbon neutral and so it was great to see the Council’s new zero-emission vans - the first vehicles to have a ‘fill-up’ of Orkney-produced hydrogen – at the launch event, providing clear evidence that BIG HIT is up and running.”

Mark Hull, Head of Innovation for Community Energy Scotland, added: “The launch of this project is the hard earned result of a truly unique partnership of technical, public and local community partners coming together. We are looking forward to seeing it not only lead the way internationally, but also create real benefit to the local community, especially in Shapinsay and Eday.

Neil Kermode, Managing Director of the European Marine Energy Centre said: “By piloting the generation of hydrogen from renewable energy sources, BIG HIT is helping avoid grid shortcomings, while supporting further development of renewable energy projects in Orkney. It is breaking through the barriers to delivering renewable transport and heat, opening up new markets around the world.”

Clive Brookes, the Chair of Eday Renewable Energy added "Eday Renewable Energy are proud and pleased to be part of BIG HIT and the emerging Hydrogen economy here in Orkney. This is an exciting time for the community of Eday and will create new opportunities for making better use of renewable energy generated from wind and tidal sources on Eday".

The Orkney Islands have over 50 MW of installed wind, wave and tidal capacity generating over 46 GWhr per year of renewable power and has been a net exporter of electricity since 2013. Energy used to produce the hydrogen for BIG HIT is provided by the community-owned wind turbines on the islands of Shapinsay and Eday, two of the islands in the Orkney archipelago.

At present the Shapinsay and Eday wind turbines are often ‘curtailed’, losing on average more than 30% of their annual output, limited by grid capacity restrictions in Orkney. This wasted energy from the locally owned Shapinsay wind turbine will be used by the BIG HIT project to produce renewable hydrogen using a 1 MW PEM electrolyser supplied by ITM Power. Storing excess renewable energy as renewable hydrogen in this way increases the utilisation of the installed wind capacity without the need to reinforce the grid connection.

Prof Roger Putnam CBE, Chairman of ITM Power, added: "BIG HIT is an important blue-print for the design of hydrogen energy systems utilising intermittent renewable energy. The project perfectly illustrates the use of electrolysis for energy storage and its subsequent use as a clean fuel and for renewable heat. ITM Power are delighted to be part of such an important project"

BIG HIT builds on foundations laid by the Orkney Surf ‘n’ Turf initiative, which has established production of hydrogen on the island of Eday using wind and tidal energy. BIG HIT and Surf ‘n’ Turf are both recognised as world leading pilot and demonstration projects, which put in place a fully integrated model of hydrogen production, storage, transportation and utilisation for low carbon heat, power and transport. These projects have successfully address a number of operational and development challenges including the logistical and regulatory aspects for transport of hydrogen fuel between islands, and the orientation and familiarisation with new hydrogen building and transport technologies.

Fernando Palacin, the Managing Director of The Foundation for the Development of New Hydrogen Technologies in Aragon, coordinators of the BIG HIT project, said: “Hydrogen technologies provide solutions to some of the most important challenges that humankind has to face in terms of sustainability, environmental concerns, and a better use of local renewable resources for improvement the socio-economic structure of the region or territory where they are deployed. They also offer public & private entities business opportunities, allowing them to increase competitiveness and social cohesion. The BIG HIT European project is a pioneer project and the first step worldwide towards establishing a real locally-integrated hydrogen economy, The Foundation is delighted to join and lead this consortium to demonstrate and make visible & tangible the benefits of hydrogen technologies in Orkney”.

The local authority partner in BIG HIT is Orkney Islands Council, providing local input together with the Shapinsay Development Trust (SDT), Community Energy Scotland (CES), and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). Calvera, Giacomini, ITM Power, and Symbio are the industry partners providing equipment and technical expertise. Technical University of Denmark (DTU) is the technical partner and the Scottish Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) is dissemination partner. The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) represents Malta as the lead follower territory for project replication. The overall BIG HIT project coordinator is Fundación Hidrógeno Aragón (FHA, The Foundation for the Development of New Hydrogen Technologies in Aragon).

The BIG HIT project has received funding from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No. 700092. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Hydrogen Europe and Hydrogen Europe research. The FCH 2 JU selected BIG HIT as the only hydrogen project of its kind to receive funding in 2016, and €5 million has been allocated to the project, which has total estimated costs of €10.9 million.