Hydrogen backbone worth £26 billion a year to the Scottish economy

A ‘hydrogen backbone’ - a pipeline for Scotland to export green hydrogen straight to Germany could be worth billions to the Scottish economy and help boost Europe’s move to net zero.

A forthcoming report by the Net Zero Technology Centre, an industry-funded think tank based in Aberdeen, calculates that the hydrogen export market could be worth £26 billion a year to Scotland. 

Investing in a direct pipeline direct from Flotta terminal in Orkney to the German city of Emden will help Germany fill its growing demand for supplies of sustainable energy to replace its former reliance on Russian gas. 

Additional ‘spurs’ of the £2.7 billion pipeline would link to hydrogen production centres at Sullom Voe, the Cromarty Firth and St Fergus gas terminal in Aberdeenshire. 

As the UK steps down - the EU is stepping up

In contrast to the UK which is stepping down its action on climate change, the EU is stepping up. The European Parliament has just approved a new law that sets a target for Europe to produce 40% of its annual deployment needs in net-zero technologies by 2030, and to capture 15% of the global market value for these technologies.

Scotland can directly contribute to that effort by making use of its access to vast amounts of wind and the offshore continental shelf, which makes it possible to site turbines in the sea. 

The biggest barrier to expansion is the UK’s privatised National Grid

The biggest barrier to the rapid development of Scotland’s wind power industry is the “weak” privatised National Grid.  Offshore sites have to wait decades to get a connection to the grid. 

An alternative strategy - use wind power to make hydrogen

But the energy created by the powerful turbines can be used instead to power electroysers - machines which break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be stored or transported. 

When burned, the by-product of hydrogen is hydrogen dioxide - also known as water. Critics often cite how volatile it is, but it can also be easily converted into ammonia which makes it more stable to transport. 

The report entitled “Enabling Green Hydrogen Exports: Matching Scottish Production To German Demand” was pre-released to the media last week. The NZTC is funded by industry with support from the UK and Scottish governments. 

Not a question of if but when

Darren Gee, net Zero Technology Transition Programme Manager at NZTC said: “Scotland, and the UK, has what it takes to deliver competitive green hydrogen, create jobs and contribute to the transition to a low-xarbon energy system. Here at NZTC we’re working to turn this ambition into a reality. This isn’t a question of if but when.” 

The report sets out a roadmap to “maximise the economic benefits from Scotland's export potential, initiating delivery of hydrogen to centres of demand in mainland Europe by the mid-2020s."

Large-scale energy production or use is measured in terawatt hours (TWH). One TWH is equivalent to using a trillion watts of electricity for an hour - enough to fully power around 70,000 homes for a year. The report estimates 126TWH of renewable hydrogen a year could be produced in Scotland by 2045 - with around 94TWH exported.

It concludes: “Scotland's extensive wind resource creates significant potential for electrolyser-based hydrogen production at a large scale, enabling the provision of surplus hydrogen to fulfil demand in continental Europe. Demand for green hydrogen is growing, particularly in Northern European markets, with Germany currently presenting the largest share of demand in Europe."

The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland a net exporter of hydrogen and is due to pledge a Hydrogen Sector Export Plan this year. At the same time, GreenPower has secured planning permission for a hydrogen hub to turn energy from Carraig Gheal wind farm near Kilchrenan into hydrogen. A large three-gigawatt electrolyser project has also been unveiled by London-based Statera Energy for Kintore in Aberdeenshire.


Scotland has huge potential to boost both its own economy and Europe’s move to net zero by pushing forward with a pipeline to Germany. Other countries are already constructing hydrogen pipelines and hydrogen is already being used as fuel in other industrial processes.

As an independent country it would be able to borrow to invest and to partner with other nations to make this a reality. As it is, it is dependent on the UK government to loosen the purse strings. 

The slow pace of investment in the infrastructure that underpins the UK’s energy distribution networks means that Scotland cannot make use of its wind power potential by supplying the UK alone.

There is a strong case for this investment on both climate and economic grounds. The UK must respond - any failure to do so will be read as holding Scotland back.