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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, firm choices around the degree 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.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The document consists of an exploration of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

As the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then expand substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Its versatility means it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high rates and low effectiveness..

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

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

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

In its brand-new method, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a key part of its net-zero plan, and says it desires the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “aware of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially absolutely no.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen expenses released along with the main technique, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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


There was substantial 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 international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The figure below from the assessment, 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.

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from gas facilities and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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 main consider market advancement”.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government ought to “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for determining these emissions.

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

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

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 cost savings”.

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

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025″..

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

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

In the example chosen for the assessment, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

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

Comparison of price estimates across various technology types at central fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The new method mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will provide “further detail on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

” As the method admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to use 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

However, the strategy also consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heatpump..

Coverage of the report and government promotional products emphasised that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

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

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

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

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. However, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial 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 CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical cars, which lots of researchers view as more effective and cost-efficient innovation. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the new strategy include:. So, my lovelies, I just 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, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and offering flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also supply some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for private homes. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. These contracts are designed to overcome the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "built on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new overseas wind farms. The new hydrogen method validates that this business model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main technique. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to enter the sector. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service design to encourage personal financial investment and an income mechanism to supply financing for the business design.