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

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might use up to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in numerous sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

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

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget impact evaluation and the full variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to begin gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then expand significantly– using up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of needs, stating that the federal government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

The file consists of an expedition of how the UK will expand production and produce a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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 states:.

The government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a pledge to “finalise style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

The brand-new technique largely prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary technique, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

The former is essentially 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..


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

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any practical regulations. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

This opposition capped when a recent study led to headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

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”.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact 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 omitted.

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

It has actually also launched 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 methodology for determining these emissions.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items vehicles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “areas less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

Protection of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to select its priorities carefully.

The technique also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

The federal government is more positive about using 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 suggests.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends 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. Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we require to use it where there are couple of options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- given leading priority. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists deem more affordable and effective innovation. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing 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 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might likewise supply some clarity. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Now that its strategy has been published, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These agreements are created to get rid of the cost gap in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies could play in achieving the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater costs or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released alongside the main strategy. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for specific families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 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. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue system to supply funding for the organization design.