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

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

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

Firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “important” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a 3rd of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The file includes 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 been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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 disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a crucial part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest advice, but covers a similar range to other studies.

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

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

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

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

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments plans pertain to fulfillment it might then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government ought to “live to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise style elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels 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 “consider carbon intensity as the primary element in market advancement”.

It has actually likewise 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.

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity known as … Read More.

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


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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

The new method mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs launched together with the primary method, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

The CCC has warned that policies should establish both blue and green choices, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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 debate”. He states:.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

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

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists see as more effective and affordable technology. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. Protection of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the governments plan would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Require proof 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". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. Commitments made in the new method consist of:. The government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. However, the technique also includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heatpump.. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its concerns thoroughly. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. This is 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 third of the size of the current power sector. " As the method confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might likewise offer some clearness. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very little" for specific households. The brand-new hydrogen method confirms that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released along with the primary method. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and a revenue mechanism to supply financing for business model. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to get in the sector. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher bills or public funds. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage 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 strategy admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.".