In-depth Q&A: How will the UK’s hydrogen strategy help achieve net-zero?

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might use up to a 3rd of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

Specialists have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

Firm decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen method offers more detail on how the government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

In its new method, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a key part of its net-zero strategy, and says it wants the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically zero.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Today we have actually released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole market let loose the marketplace to cut costs increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the finest ways of decarbonisation.

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to begin gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a crucial element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

The document contains an exploration of how the UK will broaden production and create a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Its adaptability implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then expand significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the government should “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

At the heart of many conversations about low-carbon hydrogen production is whether the hydrogen is “green” or “blue”.

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government should “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The file does not do that and rather states it will provide “further information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The federal government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise style components” of such standards by early 2022.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

In the example selected for the assessment, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were omitted..

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the primary factor in market development”.

Supporting a variety of jobs will offer the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

Quick (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

This opposition capped when a current research study caused headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.


Comparison of price quotes across different technology types at central fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

It has also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for determining these emissions.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

The CCC has actually formerly defined “appropriate emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas cost savings”.

The CCC has actually formerly stated that the government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

The CCC has cautioned that policies must establish both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released together with the primary strategy, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

The new method largely avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has committed to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

How will hydrogen be utilized in different sectors of the economy?

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which lots of scientists see as more economical and effective innovation.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the current power sector.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

” As the technique admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals market– offered top concern.

Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows.

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:.

Nevertheless, the strategy also consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heatpump..

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

In the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to select its concerns thoroughly. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique may likewise supply some clearness. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher costs or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to motivate personal investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for the company model. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. These agreements are created to overcome the cost gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this company design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for private households. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:.