AT its heart, Aberdeen is a place at ease with reinvention. Throughout its history – at one point or another – it has been a hub for shipbuilding, whaling, textiles, paper and fishing.

Now, it faces perhaps its most dramatic reinvention of all: pivoting from the oil and gas capital of Europe to, in the words of Nicola Sturgeon, the net-zero capital of the world.

“The offshore energy industry has been a huge benefit to our city, the wider northeast and the UK exchequer over the past 50 years,” said Ian Yuill, a long-serving LibDem councillor in Aberdeen City Council.

“But while oil and gas reserves in the North Sea are still very substantial, we know they are ultimately finite. That’s without even mentioning the climate issue.”

As part of the council, Yuill was involved in the creation of the Net Zero Aberdeen Routemap. Developed by 24 partners, including the council, local businesses, community organisations and charities, the ambitious plan aims to take the city to net zero by 2045.

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In the context of Aberdeen, it’s worth remembering exactly what "net zero" means.

In short, it is the pragmatic international solution to limiting climate change without entirely scrapping technologies that cannot currently be powered by clean energy (such as aeroplanes).

Where “absolute zero” would constitute no greenhouse gas emissions at all, net zero offsets “unavoidable” emissions with activities that sequester carbon, like the regeneration of a forest.

In practice, however, that means implementing an undeniably enormous amount of change in a city that has centred its economy around fossil fuels for the past half-decade.

“This is a genuine opportunity for the city and the region to secure an economic future,” said Yuill.

“Aberdeen is uniquely placed - not just in the UK or Europe but in the world - to benefit from this transition to clean energy.

“We have more than 60,000 people in the northeast working in offshore oil and gas. That is, people who are already delivering complex offshore engineering projects.

“There’s a great deal of transferable skill there - not just for offshore wind but for hydrogen, too.”

Both blue and green hydrogen are set to play a role in Aberdeen’s future.

Blue hydrogen is created with natural gas, with the associated greenhouse gases being captured and then stored.

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is made through splitting water via electrolysis and doesn’t produce CO2 as a by-product. All it requires is a source of renewable electricity.

A UK-wide climate goal is to trial the heating of an entire town purely with hydrogen before 2030 - and Aberdeen has been at the forefront of pioneering this technology, particularly in its transport sector.

To date more than 80 hydrogen-powered vehicles have regularly traversed the city, mainly in the form of buses and bin lorries.

As Fergus Mutch, a policy adviser for Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, told The National, Aberdeen’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry meant that innovation in the energy sector was essential.

“When the oil price was high, Aberdeen was booming,” he said.

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“But when it dropped, things would decline quickly. The city has learnt some hard lessons in recent years, particularly since the downfall in oil price in 2015.

“People and businesses began to understand that you can’t sustain a boom town in perpetuity off the back of one resource. You have to diversify the offering.

“It’s wrong to think of Aberdeen as purely as having expertise in oil and gas; it’s got expertise in energy as a whole.”

This means that while there’s understandably focus on the transferability of skills from oil and gas to renewables, there’s also a whole host of other innovative technologies that can contribute towards the city’s net zero ambition.

Whether that’s the Donside Hydro project – Scotland’s first urban community hydro and the widest Archimedean screw turbine in the UK – or research into green hydrogen.

Indeed, technological innovation around green hydrogen is already happening within Aberdeen at a remarkable pace.

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“Aberdeen is a UK-wide exemplar of how the transition to using hydrogen can be achieved,” said Myrtle Dawes, director of the Solution Centre at the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen.

"The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub, a joint venture between Aberdeen City Council and BP, is set to deliver a green hydrogen production and transport fuelling facility, powered by a solar farm, with production due to begin in 2024.

“Phase one involves the delivery of a green hydrogen production and transport refuelling facility delivering over 800 kilograms of green hydrogen per day – enough to fuel 25 buses and a similar number of other fleet vehicles.

"Future phases could see production scaled up through further investment to supply larger volumes of green hydrogen for rail, freight and marine, as well as supply of hydrogen for heat and potentially export.”

Investment in these projects also serves to help other industries in the city.

For example, the South Harbour expansion at the Port of Aberdeen will not only provide much-needed capacity for vessels essential for decommissioning offshore rigs but also a berth for large cruise ships, boosting the region’s tourism sector.

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Net zero, then, isn’t just an opportunity for energy businesses but for the city as a whole: from newly arrived engineering graduates to the Aberdonian workers retrofitting homes.

“Aberdeen’s route map to net zero will bring many changes to our lives in the coming years,” said Gregor McAbery of local climate group Friends of the Earth Aberdeen.

“We have a lot of older homes, as well as other public and private buildings that will need to see be dragged up to current standards of insulation and low or zero carbon heating - including granite tenements and non-standard prefabricated construction types.”

Yet although the challenges are numerous, McAbery believes that it is not in the nature of the city to shy away from them.

“An Aberdeen that adapts to facing rapidly changing climate change challenges head-on may have to review and add to plans as we go along down the track.

“Maybe blue or green hydrogen as a home fuel has only limited merits and would simply be reducing emissions from those properties yet to get a heat pump?

“Maybe we should only use green hydrogen rather than leaning on unproven carbon capture and storage to clean up blue hydrogen which is made from gas?

“The truth will play out over the coming years. But with luck, we will enjoy cleaner air, lower energy bills, and more exercise due to active travel.

“Better still, Aberdeen will have a future long after oil and gas.”