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

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

Meanwhile, company decisions around the degree 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 assessment for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might consume to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a vital part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock modifications.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fruition it might then broaden considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of demands, mentioning that the federal government needs to “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry unleash the market to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

In its brand-new technique, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and says it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially absolutely no.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Its versatility implies it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high costs and low efficiency..

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government must “live to the risk of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– stated that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main aspect in market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

The CCC has actually previously mentioned that the federal government must “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

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

It has actually likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for computing these emissions.

In the example picked for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

The CCC has actually alerted that policies should develop both green and blue choices, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

This opposition capped when a current study resulted in headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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


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

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

The document does not do that and instead states it will offer “more information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released along with the main technique, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

How will hydrogen be used in various sectors of the economy?

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

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

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

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to choose its top priorities carefully.

” As the strategy admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we need to utilize it where there are few 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 declaration.

Call for 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.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which include most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

Nevertheless, the technique likewise consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps..

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable 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.

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which many researchers deem more efficient and economical technology.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided leading concern.

In the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "dont add the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Protection of the report and government advertising products emphasised that the federal governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy goods cars, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions 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 opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique might likewise supply some clearness. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? These agreements are developed to get rid of the cost space in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the market would be "very small" for individual families. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen business design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue system to provide financing for business model. The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced alongside the main strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector.