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

On the other hand, firm choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Specialists have alerted 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 capability expands.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could utilize up to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden considerably– taking up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Hydrogen is widely seen as an essential part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

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

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually no.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

However, just like many of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

Its adaptability implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

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

Hydrogen development for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it depended on very high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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

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 main consider market development”.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon 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 left out.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released along with the primary strategy, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..


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

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

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

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

The brand-new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as … Read More.

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

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 debate”. He says:.

Environmental groups and many researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not add the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices 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.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which many researchers view as more effective and economical technology. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and offering flexibility to the power system. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Coverage of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. The method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " As the method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need 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 programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to pick its concerns carefully. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Commitments made in the brand-new method include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method might likewise provide some clearness. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. " This will provide 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 innovations might play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced along with the main method. These contracts are designed to conquer the expense space between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization model to encourage private financial investment and an earnings system to offer financing for the service model. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for private families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for companies intending to go into the sector. 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 cash would come from either higher bills or public funds.