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

Specialists have warned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

Firm choices around the degree 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.

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

Hydrogen is widely seen as an essential element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies concern fruition it might then broaden substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at virtually zero.

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

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

Nevertheless, similar to most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Its versatility indicates it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high rates and low performance..

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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 “think about carbon strength as the main factor in market development”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

Short (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & without any practical regulations. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

The CCC has warned that policies need to develop both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a range of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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


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 argument”. He says:.

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen available..

It has 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 approach for determining these emissions.

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

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

The document does not do that and instead says it will offer “additional detail on our production method and twin track method by early 2022″.

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

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof 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 competitors in 2021.

” As the method confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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 “do not add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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

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

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

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

It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

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

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to “locations less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to choose its concerns thoroughly.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The strategy likewise consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests potential 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. 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 use cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which numerous researchers deem more cost-effective and effective innovation. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. Commitments made in the new method include:. " Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 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 choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might also offer some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. These agreements are created to conquer the expense space in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to go into the sector. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate private investment and an income mechanism to offer financing for business design. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake 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 industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for specific households. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this company model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released together with the primary strategy. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "built on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms.