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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

Firm choices around the level of hydrogen usage 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.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans concern fulfillment it could then broaden considerably– using up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, specifying that the government should “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on natural gas.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan 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 practically no.

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched together with the main strategy, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term procedure of global warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

The new method largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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 debate”. He says:.

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 methodology for computing these emissions.

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 main factor in market development”.

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

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

The federal government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle design aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

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.

The file does not do that and rather states it will supply “more information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022″.

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

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

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

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 techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

The CCC has alerted that policies must develop both green and blue alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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


Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government should “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to use 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 statement.

The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

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

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

It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to “locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

So, 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 use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous scientists consider as more affordable and effective technology.

Nevertheless, the technique likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump..

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

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

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

However, in the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. This is 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. Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for space 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. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clarity. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the market would be "very little" for individual homes. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for companies intending to get in the sector. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this business model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched alongside the primary strategy. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage 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 will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to encourage personal investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for the service model. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds.