A NEW blueprint has been drawn up to turn Scotland into a global powerhouse for green energy – a move which economists and scientists say would be transformative when it comes to the wealth and standing of the nation.

The study lays the ground for Scotland to take full advantage of the hydrogen revolution. Renewable hydrogen would not only satisfy all our domestic energy needs, but it could also be exported. Until now it’s been impossible to properly store and export green energy.

The Scottish economist and scientist who head up the new HIAlba-Idea think tank say Scotland could effectively fuel the proposed European supergrid, and generate so much money for the economy that the nation could establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund, as Norway did with North Sea oil. The UK failed to set up such a fund.

HIAlba-Idea, the first think tank based in the Highlands, is run by the economist Professor Ronald MacDonald, and the mathematician, scientist and engineer Dr Donald MacRae. MacDonald is professor of macroeconomics at Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School. He has been a consultant adviser to the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the World Bank, the IMF and the UK National Audit Office. MacRae has held under-secretary positions in the Australian government and was a director with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

MacRae’s work with CSIRO is key to the blueprints which the think tank is releasing tomorrow – called Hydrogen Scotland: A Route to Export Powerhouse and Maximising Scotland’s Wellbeing While Bravely Innovating. Australia has started to use solar power to develop renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be produced using solar, wave or wind power, and can then be used as a cheap, clean, plentiful energy source, and exported for the first time. Some have described the process as bottling sunshine and wind.

The new technology is being hailed as the solution to many of the West’s environmental, economic and social problems. MacDonald says the energy revolution would solve the “tail-off in productivity of the Scottish and UK economy”, which came about with the shift from manufacturing to services.

Renewable hydrogen is “the big transformative idea”, he says, which would “take us back to being a manufacturing economy and an export power house”. He added: “The revolution is having this cheap, storable and transportable energy.” MacRae called it “a game-changer”.

MacDonald believes renewable hydrogen could lead to a “Highland renaissance” as many of the wind farms needed to create the new energy source would be located in the most rural parts of the country.

Renewable hydrogen “could easily equal the whole production of North Sea oil in terms of its potential benefits to the UK and Scotland”, said MacDonald. “We could set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund as the Norwegians have done.”

While Scotland – and Orkney in particular – are making good progress with the technology, Australia has already created a “roadmap” for commercial use of renewable hydrogen. South Korea plans to convert its 26,000-strong fleet of buses to hydrogen, and Australia is eyeing the market for exports. Japan is also moving toward the use of more hydrogen vehicles.

HIAlba-Idea is calling on the Holyrood Government and the big players in the oil industry, who want to move away from carbons to green energy, to work with them to create a Scottish roadmap. Norway is also starting to explore the exploitation of renewable hydrogen.

With Europe “desperate for energy independence”, says MacRae, Scotland would be well placed to export renewable hydrogen to the continent.

MacDonald said: “Clearly, a Europe self-sufficient in green energy would have implications that go beyond decarbonisation, including that of its security, since it would no longer need to be reliant on potentially hostile countries for its energy supplies.”

MacRae added: “You can imagine an energy-independent Europe, through power generated by Scotland going into a supergrid.”

He proposes storing green energy – it would be kept as ammonia, from which the hydrogen is extracted – on decommissioned North Sea oil rigs among forests of floating wind farms.

MacDonald and MacRae say that if the new industry is handled properly by the Government, Scotland could also become a centre for manufacturing and exporting the equipment and technology associated with renewable hydrogen, as well as a global hub for the financial services needed to fund it.

“For Scotland,” said MacRae, “it has the potential to be a very significant game-changer. In fact, there are so many innovations that spin off it that we are actually looking at it as a whole portfolio of opportunities. For Scotland, we are talking about something of immense significance.”

MacDonald added: “The exciting part is the transformative effect on society and the economy. This is a breakthrough which could transcend anything else we are doing, that’s how important it is.”

He added that the impact on global warming would be “enormous”. “Scotland on its own being completely carbon-free would probably make some impact, but it would be quite small. But if the supergrid became a reality then that in itself could be revolutionary. This could be the pathway to making the whole of Europe green.” He feels it would not be long before green supergrids spread across the globe.

If Scotland took a lead in renewable hydrogen, the global clout that came with that would be “phenomenal”.

The HIAlba-Idea vision is that Scotland becomes one of the largest global energy exporters in the world ... through the low-cost extraction of hydrogen from renewably generated ammonia used as a storage medium and carrier of hydrogen.

The think tank says: “Offshore ammonia production on disused oil rigs serving offshore wind farms could be stored for periods of low wind. In this way, the continuous production of renewable electricity is guaranteed”.

In its “2050 vision for energy”, the Scottish Government did look at the role of hydrogen in the national energy mix. “However, it neither envisions it as a major export industry nor considers the role of renewable ammonia in achieving this outcome,” it notes.

The renewable energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor is advocating a single European energy market connected by a supergrid. “An interconnected energy market based on renewable energy linked by a supergrid will deliver cheap power to consumers and enable us all to meet our climate goals,” he said.



A GREEN energy revolution is just the biggest idea on the table when it comes to the future of the Scottish economy.

Professor Ronald MacDonald and his colleague Dr Donald MacRae have some other revolutionary plans, including autonomous self-fuelled ships. These would clean up plastic in the oceans and turn the waste into a biofuel produced onboard. This would power the ships 24-7 and be pollution free.

Seaweed could also be the crop of the future, with a growing market in the world for kelp, including vegan foods, beer, healthcare products, eco-friendly packaging and cosmetics.

The use of off-shore rigs for the production of renewable hydrogen could also stimulate the seaweed industry. HIAlba-Idea suggests ‘operating large-scale seaweed harvesting operations in conjunction with disused oil rigs and associated offshore wind farms established for offshore ammonia production’.

‘Steel cables strung between wind turbine mountings and disused oil rigs [could] provide an ideal seaweed growing and harvesting zone.’

With crofts working to run wind farms and the renewable hydrogen sector, farms would have the money to use ‘drones and robotised farming practices’. Hemp - now seen as a superfood - could be grown on crofts and sold globally as hemp oil, hemp chocolate and hemp milk.

If rural areas are able to grow in wealth, the University of the Highlands and Islands could establish mini-campuses in burgeoning communities - increasing the population and economy.