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

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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for attaining 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 require a hydrogen strategy?

In its brand-new method, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a crucial part of its net-zero strategy, and states it wants the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The document includes 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 wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

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

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

Prior to the brand-new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at essentially zero.

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important element in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies pertain to fruition it might then expand significantly– using up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

Its adaptability implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high rates and low efficiency..

As with many of the governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

The figure listed 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 methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs launched alongside the main strategy, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The method mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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 element in market development”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

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

Supporting a variety of tasks will give the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to establish both blue and green choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government need to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will supply “more information on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He states:.

This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen offered..


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

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

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

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

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

Short (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

” As the method admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we require 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.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric cars, which lots of scientists consider as more efficient and cost-effective technology.

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered leading priority. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. The committee stresses that hydrogen use must be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and offering flexibility to the power system. The method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require 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 competitors in 2021. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for uses that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. However, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. 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 usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might also offer some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and an income mechanism to offer financing for business design. Hydrogen demand (pink area) 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 confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. Now that its method has been released, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for private households. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the main strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to go into the sector. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms.