Arctic energy, decarbonisation and hydrogen source | Polar Jobs

Arctic energy, decarbonisation and hydrogen source

Camille Lin, PolarJournal | 25 October 2023

Arctic communities are growing and need energy. Decarbonised energy is attracting the interest of political decision-makers, investors and firms

Scotland focuses its energy strategy on offshore wind turbines to replace oil platforms (? Dugornay Olivier)

Decarbonising the economy took center stage during the this past weekend’s Arctic Circle, an annual gathering in Reykjavík of Arctic stakeholders. “Decarbonisation”, to make clear, does not necessarily refer to renewable energies; it also includes nuclear power, which is attracting the attention of academics and investors, who believe it could help enrich the energy mix of populations in the North, where there is no sun in winter and no constant wind.

Leading the way in the production of electricity from wind and offshore currents, Scotland represented the European continent effortlessly. Gillian Martin, 0f the Department of Energy, pointed out that the country wants to exploit these resources and export the surplus. To do so, they intend to produce hydrogen and create a commercial hub to export it, at the very least to supply Orkney, an archipelago to the north of Scotland.

Also representing Scotland and its tranisiton to renewable energy, Camille Dressler, the head of Scottish Islands Federation and a resident of the Eigg (pop 87). The island has become energy self-sufficient by installing solar panels, micro-hydro turbines and wind turbines. Residents are them is involved in the community’s energy strategy, simply by controlling the power consumption of each appliance, or by maintaining the energy infrastructure themselves.

On a larger scale, in Glasgow, the University of Scotland is looking to optimise energy production in buildings, and they’ve found a way to heat a building using solar energy. Their system doesn’t use electricity as an intermediary between the sun and the radiator; the panel heats the interior directly. The result is an increase in efficiency from 20% to 60%. In addition, the researchers have integrated wind turbines into the building, whose shape follows the acceleration of the wind around the building.

The emptying of glacial lakes produces sufficient quantities of water to lift the glacier by flowing under its base (? Poul Christoffersen)

Further north, with 80% renewable energy, the Faroe Islands are following Scotland’s lead. Kári Mannbjørn Mortensen, head of the Department of Energy, unveils a production project that aims to triple the island’s current output with floating wind turbines. “We can no longer rely on our land space; we need to find other spaces,” he says. He’s also aware that installing wind turbines too close to the coast could potentially harm bird colonies and mar the landscape.

“Forty thousand square kilometers of the continental shelf are between 100 and 200 meters deep,” he says. That’s an ideal area for projects. But the locations have yet to be defined, as the country’s fishermen are already viewing this with a critical eye, fearing it could compromise fishing grounds.

The Faroe Islands’ energy autonomy includes the propulsion of its vessels. Authorities there estimate that the amount of energy it needs for transport will triple between now and 2040, and by then the wind power project could reach 12 TW per year. That’s four times more than what is needed for self-sufficiency. The project therefore includes a submarine cable link to the Shetland Isladns and Iceland.

Iceland Air, the flag carrier, plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 2050. The reason for the relatively long amount of time time, according to the company, is that the country is dependenent on aviation for foreign travel, but the industry is struggling to find tangible prospects for decarbonisation. The only practical way forward is to renew the fleet with newer aircraft, some of which, such as the Boeing 737 Max, consume some 20% less fuel. The industry’s main hope for weaning itself off oil is the development of hydrogen propulsion.

Tryggvi Þór Herbertsson, an economist with Háskóli Íslands (University of Reykjavik), believes Iceland is well suited to the production of hydrogen. Important to note here is that hydrogen is simply a means of transporting energy produced with electricity. Mr Herbertsson predicts an increase in the price of electricity production in Europe. However, Iceland and Greenland are among the cheapest regions in the world to produce electric power. He adds that the arrival of hydrogen on a large scale in Europe could begin within four years.

Greenland also has enormous potential for producing decarbonised electricity. “There’s an almost cynical twist to this story, since it’s global warming that makes electricity generation possible in Greenland,” Mr Herbertsson says.

In turn, Greenlandic authorities sees hydrogen as the central pillar of the country’s development, with a potential of 9.5 TW from a major project on the central part of the western coast and other smaller projects around Nuuk. Getting them off the ground will require outside investment, however.

To supply Nome, scientists estimate that a 5 to 7 MW nuclear micro-reactor should meet the community’s needs (? City of Nome)

In general, investment will be the key to renewable energy in the region, as the University of Alaska Anchorage and its micro-reactor research project illustrates. Richelle Johnson is an economist studying whether small nuclear reactors—comparable with those used in nuclear submarines—could be used in the state’s rural communities that are not connected to a power grid.

She identifies a number of economic obstacles to the development of these projects: the fuel supply chain is difficult to predict, as is the impact of inflation, and key materials, such as helium—essential for certain technologies, are becoming increasingly scarce. In short, all these factors complicate the evaluation of the price of these devices.

On a positive note, the deployment of nuclear power in communities in the North would make up for the shortcomings of renewable energies, and above all enable local production of items that today have to be imported and are very expensive for the inhabitants of these remote regions.

The transition cannot take place without the involvement of local communities, who have no confidence in the state when it comes to nuclear power. According to Diane Hirshberg, an anthropologist, the root of the mistrust can be found on nuclear tests conducted on Alaska’s tundra over 50 years ago. “These stories have a huge impact on current discussions,” she says.

That’s why Haruko Wainwright, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, organises summer camps where young people are introduced to the scientific measurement of water quality. They learn how to detect pollutants, and, in so doing, gain some control over their environment.

Energy self-sufficiency and development in Arctic communities can create jobs and activity in these regions. On the island of Eigg, for example, local residents are training young people to operate electrical installations, in the hope that they will stay and work in this sector.

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