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An interview with Paul McCormack, Program Manager of GenComm, Part Two

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Paul McCormack, Program Manager of GenComm (GENerating energy secure COMMunities) describes himself as an entrepreneurial innovator, technology ambitious, green hydrogen proponent and intellectually curious. As Project Coordinator on international projects he engages with many companies across different industries, positioning them truly at the forefront of innovation. He is an engineer and MBA graduate with over 30 years experience within global manufacturing, engineering, software, renewable energy, packaging and environmental industries. REM sat down with McCormack to discuss the GenComm Project and the future of hydrogen in the UK. This is Part two of a two part interview.    
An interview with Paul McCormack, Program Manager of GenComm, Part Two
Paul McCormack

REM: You’ve got three pilot plants on the books linking facilities creating renewable energy with energy users and you’ve got energy storage. Are these pilot plants up and running?

GenComm has developed three hybrid hydrogen technology pilots from renewable technologies – Wind, Bio and Solar. Empowering energy sustainable communities, driving the EU's transformation to a low-carbon energy system

The GenComm project addresses the energy sustainability challenges of NWE communities through the implementation of smart, hydrogen-based energy matrixes. The project certifies the commercial maturity of hydrogen technologies by implementing 3 pilot plants, linking the 3 main European renewable sources, Solar Power, Wind Power and Bioenergy, with energy storage and the main forms of energetic demand; heat, power and transportation fuels. Based on the pilot plants; integrated technical and financial simulation models have been developed.  Together, both models have delivered a Decision Support Tool that provides a roadmap for communities to transition to renewable, hydrogen-based energy matrixes. The final goal of the project is, through the combination of sources and forms of demand, to lead NWE’s road to sustainability while granting hydrogen its position as a commercially viable energy medium for the future.

GenComm is technically and financially validating and modelling the renewable H2 value chain and adapting it to the Decision Support Tool (DST) that empowers North Western Europe (NWE) communities into sustainable, local and autonomous energy matrixes. The DST is directed to community energy stakeholders (utilities, policy-makers and private firms in the energy sector), as the key agents to implement the proposed matrix.

The project is successfully delivering a sustainable just transition to green and resilient communities. This is being achieved by;

 

a)     Empowering communities to implement hydrogen-based energy matrixes to sustainably satisfy their energetic demand specifically in meeting their public transport mobility needs powered by Green H2. Ecological sustainability and a new growth strategy is at the heart of GenComm.

b)    Stimulating the uptake of renewable hydrogen-based technologies by successfully running 3 demonstration facilities in Northern Ireland wind to H2, Germany solar to H2 and Scotland Bio to H2. Establishing a strong group of energy stakeholders – the Community Hydrogen Forum (CH2F) is devoted to this, through the use of hydrogen, to “sustainabilize” the energy matrix of the NWE region. The CH2F platform is an energy doorway designed to help everyone understand the opportunities renewable hydrogen technologies offer in Europe.

GenComm is delivering the tools that will enable communities to access hydrogen equity, enabling isolated communities to become sustainable and resilient, opening opportunities so  all of Europe can fully realize the benefits of green hydrogen. In cohesion with other projects we are constructing a European wide H2 highway collaborating and sharing research, results, and ensuring all can reap the benefits of a zero-carbon energy system.

The project is successfully

  • Empowering communities to implement hydrogen-based energy matrixes to sustainably satisfy their energetic demand specifically in meeting their public transport mobility needs powered by Green H2
  • Stimulating the uptake of renewable hydrogen-based technologies by successfully running 3 demonstration facilities in Northern Ireland wind to H2, Germany solar to H2 and Scotland Bio to H2
  • Establishing a strong group of energy stakeholders – the Community Hydrogen Forum (CH2F) devoted to, through the use of hydrogen, “sustainabilize” the energy matrix of the NWE region.

Based on the pilot plants; integrated technical and financial simulation models have been developed and implemented.  These models form the Decision Support Tool that provides a roadmap for communities to transition to renewable, hydrogen-based energy matrixes. The ultimate goal of the project is, through the combination of sources and forms of demand, to lead NWE’s road to sustainability while granting hydrogen its position as a commercially viable energy medium for the future.

Green H2 generated from renewable energy is fueling the European energy revolution and creating new business models, opportunities, reach and control. GenComm is highlighting how Hydrogen is decoupling the European Energy network; we are on the cusp of an energy transition that will revolutionize the energy networks, as we know them. European Communities, especially in remote areas, face multiple challenges to become energy secure and sustainable. Growth in electricity from renewable sources is stalling due to intermittency, grid restrictions, curtailment, and high costs. Sustainable energy to supply the transport sector and heating demand are even further underexploited. GenComm enables CO2 efficient implementation of Green H2 in regional transport, energy networks and industrial use.

The project also demonstrates the optimization of Green Hydrogen (Green H2) to be SMART Hydrogen (SMART H2). Smart Hydrogen has created a hydrogen value chain that is optimal in technical performance, financial revenues and reduced environmental impact.

REM: Depending on the answer, what role does or will smart hydrogen play? What efficiencies or other benefits is it adding to the mix?

Hydrogen based energy systems can build bridges to a green energy future, one where communities on the periphery of Europe can address their energy vulnerability and build a secure energy future. However planning a cost effective and efficient transition is hugely complex. The very large capital and human investments implied will require many years before coming to fruition. However, we must begin now to explore this path to a more sustainable future.

Hydrogen and electricity also allow flexibility in balancing centralized and decentralized power, based on managed, intelligent grids, and power for remote locations (e.g. island, and mountain sites). Decentralized power is attractive both to ensure power quality to meet specific customer needs, as well as reducing exposure to terrorist attack. The ability to store hydrogen more easily than electricity can help with load levelling and in balancing the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. Hydrogen is also one of the few energy carriers that enables renewable energy sources to be introduced into transport systems.

Europe is recognizing that hydrogen and fuel cells will be core technologies for the 21st century and be the catalyst for economic growth and sustainable prosperity. There is growing, strong investment and industrial activity in the hydrogen and fuel cell arena in these technologies, driving the transition to hydrogen. For Europe to compete and become a leading world player in the hydrogen sector, it has to intensify its efforts and create a favorable business development environment. This energy environment will be a bonus to all, especially peripheral communities where they can use this as a foundation for stability and growth.

We have begun to witness this new EU stance when the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated in March 2021 at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue 2021 "With NextGenerationEU, we will invest in clean hydrogen as never before. Clean hydrogen is a perfect means towards our goal of climate neutrality. "

SMARTH2 has been specifically designed to challenge the current policy and market shifts from fossil fuels and non-sustainable energy carriers to be replaced by Smart green fuels. SMARTH2 response to these shifts is to develop sustainable hydrogen energy systems, where the hydrogen is used as a green fuel for the transport and industry sectors.

SMARTH2 aims to resolve grid constrained, renewable energy deployment issues, greening the fueling infrastructure, creating and demonstrating the appropriate environments and setup required to utilize the excess/curtailed wind energy, transforming and storing it as a Hydrogen Gas and then transporting this gas to center hubs, which is used to fuel Zero emission vehicles including buses and trucks and to empower industry.

SMARTH2 will develop H2 hubs and couple the renewable energy, transport and industry sectors resulting in increased renewable energy generation and productivity and directly reducing GHG gases within the NWE.

REM: The end product of the pilot projects will be the creation of models and a decision support tool to help communities transition to renewables and hydrogen. Could you describe the tool in a little more detail and who will use it?

GenComm seeks to maximize the use of Green Hydrogen as an energy vector to GENerate energy secure COMMunities. These Communities face multiple challenges to become energy secure, sustainable and assure future growth. Energy from renewable sources is stalling due to intermittency, grid restrictions, curtailment, and high costs. GenComm strives to address these issues by developing a sustainable, renewable community-scaled, H2 based, energy model based on the results of 3 GenComm pilot plants using local renewable sources to supply electricity, heating and transportation fuels.

GenComm has demonstrated how Hydrogen as an energy carrier could mitigate these challenges by acting as a buffer between energy demand and supply, while enabling flexibility between the potential energetic and non-energetic uses of renewable energy. GenComm has demonstrated to stakeholder authorities and agencies how Green H2 can achieve this potential and overcome challenges while maintaining the highest safety standards.

Now in 2021 Europe finds itself in the middle of a H2 energy revolution –where all of Europe must be informed, assisted and enabled to continue the transition from fossil fuels to a net zero C02 destination. Hydrogen is no longer an ’if and why’ it is now ‘when and how,’ a direct result of the vision of Interreg NWE and others key stakeholders.

Through the creation of a techno-economic model and Decision Support Tool (DST) GenComm is changing the energy landscape of NWE. It is working with partners and authorities to technically and financially optimize the commercialization of renewable hydrogen. As the EU green energy revolution continues, authorities and agencies need continued information and key data analytics outputs to support and encourage confidence their green energy planning. Thus, a dynamic and collaborative decision support tool involving regional stakeholders is one aspect of a regional empowerment strategy for communities to play an active role in energy transition.

The Enabling Support Tool (EST) builds upon the DST and is a user-friendly online tool that is used for proactive planning of green Hydrogen based public transport. The EST will inform, empower and enable policy makers, authorities and transport bodies to get the optimal solution for a given green H2 demand based on existing local structures.

By performing a technical and operational optimization of electrolyzers to maximize H2 production and adapt it to the expected demand, the EST allows the users to enter the quantities of H2 they need or aim for, and the tool shows how, where and in which way the quantities can be provided most efficiently using renewable energies. The EST facilitates policy makers, authorities and transport planners to plan, develop and deploy tailor-made concepts for individual public transport solutions based on green H2. The energy model on which the EST is based enables users to plan and implement their own H2 based energy matrix in the best possible way in terms of efficiency and resource conservation. The EST is an interactive public accessible tool within the Community Hydrogen Forum (CH2F) portal that will enable users outside the pilot regions involved to plan and develop H2-based public transport solutions, including the preparation of business plans, the exploration of market opportunities and techno-economic assessments. The EST also validates how the identified solution option can be connected to the existing infrastructure and thus forms the basis of a local, all-inclusive, "closed-cycle" Green H2 economy in public transport. By implementing the identified optimal solution, a reduction of CO2 emissions or a decarbonization of the transport sector will be achieved, which can be implemented efficiently and economically on the basis of regeneratively produced H2. Empowering, informing and assisting authorities to utilize Green H2 as an energy carrier to meet PT requirements will provide sustainable benefits that can be maximized across NWE.

In helping Europe to achieve the 2050 climate neutrality goals we must enable users to validate P2X H2 technologies that can be deployed in individual scenarios and to develop long-term strategies for the advancement in adoption of hydrogen technologies. A key output for this is the H2 Enabling Support Tool ( A H2 Sat Nav) enabling the mapping of Energy Navigation Routes for the transition of the EU energy system from fossil fuel dependence to green destination. 

REM: How long will it take for hydrogen to become a commercially viable energy source?

The European Commission have set the target of climate neutrality by 2050. We must optimize Hydrogen to maximize green energy outputs and accelerate the transition to net zero by 2050. Investigating how we can develop innovative sector coupling technologies and strategies, new energy models to achieve widespread use of secure renewable energy supply and how the exploitation and implementation of existing and new technologies with industry stakeholders/customers provides commercial confidence.

The development of an efficient and effective hydrogen ecosystem offers significant opportunities for Europe especially in targeting those hard to decarbonize sectors. Hydrogen can facilitate the integration of additional renewable energy into our energy system, increasing security of supply and easing system-wide pressures on the electricity network.

Hydrogen will play a key role in the final energy mix of a future net-zero emission Europe. We must optimize the use of Hydrogen to accelerate the journey to achieving the goal of net zero and examine how we can optimize Hydrogen production, storage and use to maximize green energy outputs and accelerate the transition to net zero. In achieving a just transition to net zero we must develop innovative sector coupling technologies and strategies, new energy models to achieve widespread use of secure renewable energy supply and how the implementation of existing and new technologies with industry stakeholders/customers provides commercial confidence.

Hydrogen is now a fundamental pillar of energy policy of the EU as it transitions to a net zero future, it is the catalyst driving Europe’s energy transition. Long heralded as an alternative to fossil fuels Hydrogen faces challenges in helping solve the our dirtiest energy problems. Optimizing the Hydrogen journey by fortifying the hydrogen supply chain, production, storage and use for existing and new developing markets is key to creating a successful hydrogen Europe.

It is a key component of the EU Strategy for Energy System Integration and has been included in the TEN-E framework. To unlock hydrogen’s benefits the EU hydrogen strategy targets 6 GW of electrolzser by 2024 and 40 GW by 2040, with heavy-duty transport identified as a key sector. The EU energy integration strategy recognizes the hierarchy of energy efficiency, electrification and then the use of renewable energy specifically green hydrogen. Member states are recognizing this and providing support programs for hydrogen.

REM: What regulatory help will you need to get it there? And is there a variability in what needs to be done, country by country?

It’s been a long way until now to make the case for hydrogen, and still, a long way to go remains, especially for countries in Europe that have to embrace the hydrogen potential. But hydrogen energy cannot be hidden under the carpet anymore. It is clear for most decision makers, in the energy sector as well as in the transport sector, that hydrogen will definitely play a very important, and very strategic role in the energy transition.

How can we expedite the realization of a zero-emission hydrogen energy society, which will help address global climate challenges for future generations.

Decisive action by governments is critical to unlock growth for low-carbon hydrogen. Further efforts from all governments including introducing regulatory supports are needed to reduce costs and encourage wider use across sectors.

At the recent COP26 event in Scotland we called on all governments to build a supporting regulatory and legislative structure to stimulate, support and drive the low carbon sector with Green H2 as the key energy vector.

Green H2 is key in helping meet climate goals, decision makers must introduce strategies to attract investment and facilitate deployment of hydrogen technologies while also creating demand for hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels.

International Energy Authority (IEA) Director Faith Birol stated on October 2021 "Governments need to take rapid actions to lower the barriers that are holding low-carbon hydrogen back from faster growth, which will be important if the world is to have a chance of reaching net zero emissions by 2050."

The time is ripe to tap into hydrogen’s potential contribution to a sustainable energy system however greater public authority action is needed to accelerate the development, deployment and use of Green H2 as a low carbon replacement for fossil fuel use. Governments need to scale up their ambitions and plans and stimulate demand. The focus of most government policies is on producing low-carbon hydrogen but this focus needs to be broadened to stimulate demand. If we are to get beyond the current ‘chicken and egg’ situation boosting the role of low-carbon hydrogen in clean energy transitions must also become a government priority.  Increased and widespread enactment of current Governments hydrogen plans would unlock more global hydrogen projects to scale up hydrogen demand. Governments actions worldwide are needed to enable our energy transition to turn the corner ang get onto the Green H2 Highway to net zero.

 

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