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

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

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

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.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in numerous sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

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

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

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

Its adaptability means it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

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

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

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production 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.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually 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 allow time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The brand-new technique mainly 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 ranges.

Contrast of rate quotes throughout various innovation types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government should “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The CCC has cautioned that policies must develop both green and blue choices, “instead of just 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 intensity as the main consider market development”.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

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

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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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


The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a range of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released together with the main strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

” As the technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to utilize it where there are couple of 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.

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

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

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.

Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise 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..

Government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest automobiles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more cost-efficient and efficient innovation.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

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

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 present power sector.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also offer some clarity. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Lastly, in order to develop 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 goal to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to encourage personal investment and an earnings system to provide financing for business model. These contracts are designed to overcome the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage 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 market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be substantial amounts 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. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher expenses or public funds. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main method. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "very little" for specific families.