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

On the other hand, company decisions around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “vital” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might utilize up to a 3rd of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

Experts have actually warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

Its versatility suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically no.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, specifying that the government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then expand substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

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 desires the country to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

However, as with most of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on natural gas.

In some applications, hydrogen will contend with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the very best methods of decarbonisation.

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “mindful of a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

This opposition came to a head when a recent study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise style elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

Supporting a range of projects will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The CCC has previously specified that the federal government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

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

Short (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & with no sensible guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to develop both blue and green options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from gas facilities and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “more information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

It has actually also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for computing these emissions.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government ought to “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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


Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary technique, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

The CCC has actually formerly defined “ideal emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The brand-new method largely prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

Government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen need 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.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below indicates. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists consider as more effective and affordable innovation. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and supplying versatility to the power system. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for usages that "do not include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. The method likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique may also provide some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "built on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for individual families. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business model to encourage personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for the company model. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released along with the primary strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to get in the sector. These agreements are designed to conquer the cost gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds.