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

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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could utilize up to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

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

Meanwhile, firm choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure 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 main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fruition it might then expand considerably– using up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

However, just like many of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget impact assessment and the full range is based on the whole variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

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

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

Its adaptability implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high prices and low performance..

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

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “conscious of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

The brand-new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government need to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows 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 excluded.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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


The method mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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 states:.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

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

In the example selected for the assessment, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were left out..

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & with no practical policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs launched together with the primary technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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 “think about carbon strength as the main factor in market development”.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

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

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

The file does not do that and instead says it will offer “further detail on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to “areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and providing flexibility to the power system.

Protection of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the governments strategy would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists consider as more efficient and affordable innovation.

Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “dont add the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its concerns thoroughly.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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 competitors in 2021.

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. However, the technique likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps.. Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:. " As the technique admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also supply some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate private investment and a revenue system to offer funding for business model. These agreements are developed to conquer the cost gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this organization design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the primary strategy. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has been published, the government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last 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 strategy admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the market would be "very little" for private households. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to enter the sector.