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

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

Company choices around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Professionals have actually alerted 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 capacity expands.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Its versatility indicates it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently suffers from high rates and low efficiency..

As with many 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 recently established market.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on natural gas.

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish 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 automobile stock changes.

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

The file consists of an exploration of how the UK will broaden 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.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans concern fruition it might then broaden considerably– taking up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the method.

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead states it will supply “additional detail on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

The new technique largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of 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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the primary factor in market development”.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.


CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

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

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

It has also 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 methodology for calculating these emissions.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows the impact of setting a limit 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 left out.

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 debate”. He says:.

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

The CCC has actually formerly stated that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

The government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Brief (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

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

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen expenses released along with the primary technique, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive 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.).

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government should “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public financial investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

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

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

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

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. This remains 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 third of the size of the present power sector. It includes strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments focus on electric cars, which numerous scientists consider as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. 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". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. " As the method admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. Nevertheless, the technique also includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps.. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-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 usage cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Coverage of the report and government promotional products stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might also supply some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for private families. The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and a revenue system to provide financing for the service design. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen method verifies that this service model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched alongside the main strategy.