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

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

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

Specialists have alerted 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.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, stating that the government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the method.

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock changes.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans concern fulfillment it might then expand substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen is widely seen as a vital element in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire industry unleash the market to cut costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have cautioned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The figure below from the assessment, 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 excluded.

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

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

The plan keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The file does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “more information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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


The new strategy mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

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

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

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched together with the main technique, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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 strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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 debate”. He says:.

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

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

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study resulted in headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

Coverage of the report and government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its concerns thoroughly.

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which many researchers view as more efficient and cost-efficient innovation.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and offering flexibility to the power system.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered leading concern.

The method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal financial investments into those areas which include most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

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

The government is more positive about making use of 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 listed below indicates.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

” As the method admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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.

Commitments made in the brand-new method include:.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures technique may likewise offer some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar property to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to motivate personal investment and an earnings system to supply financing for business model. These contracts are developed to overcome the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced together with the primary technique. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private families. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 confesses, there wont be significant 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. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has actually been published, the government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to enter the sector.