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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

The file contains 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 actually been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using 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.).

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

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched together with the main strategy, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

It has actually 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 method for computing these emissions.

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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 “think about carbon intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

The CCC has cautioned that policies must develop both green and blue choices, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

The new strategy largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

The document does not do that and rather states it will supply “further information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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

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


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

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

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

The federal government is more positive 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 suggests.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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 competition in 2021.

However, the technique likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to contend with electrical heat pumps..

Commitments made in the new method include:.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous scientists see as more effective and cost-effective innovation.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

The brand-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 “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to use it where there are few alternatives 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.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns thoroughly.

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 existing power sector.

Protection of the report and government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals market– offered leading concern.

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

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

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

However, in the actual report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "locations less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and providing flexibility to the power system. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for uses that "do not add the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also supply some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? These agreements are developed to conquer the expense gap between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The new hydrogen technique validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "very little" for specific homes. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen service design to encourage personal investment and a profits system to supply funding for the organization model. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final 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 wont be significant 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. Now that its method has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to get in the sector. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". According to the governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms.