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

Professionals have actually 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 capability expands.

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

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

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

Firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen need (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 budget effect evaluation and the complete variety is based upon 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, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

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

Its versatility indicates it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently struggles with high prices and low performance..

The file includes an expedition 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

The strategy likewise 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 reduce dependence on gas.

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 plan, and says it wants the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have warned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

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

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fruition it might then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, but covers a comparable range to other research studies.

As with many of the governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study resulted in headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The file does refrain from doing that and rather states it will offer “additional information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on very high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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


Environmental groups and lots of scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

The CCC has previously specified that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035″ in its hydrogen method.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows 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.

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert 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 market lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however 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 record 100% of emissions..

The plan notes that, in some cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released alongside the main strategy, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

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

The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for usages that “dont include the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

The method also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

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 third of the size of the current power sector.

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

” As the strategy admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

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

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

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. My lovelies, I just 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. Although 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 probably be produced. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to pick its priorities carefully. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical vehicles, which numerous researchers deem more effective and economical innovation. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy may also supply some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press protection 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. The new hydrogen technique validates that this business design will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the primary method. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies could play in achieving the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". 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 strategy confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to encourage private investment and an earnings mechanism to supply financing for the business model. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. Now that its method has been published, the government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "very little" for individual homes. These agreements are created to conquer the expense space in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. 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