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

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

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

The UKs brand-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 virtually non-existent.

Specialists 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.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans concern fulfillment it could then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as a crucial part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at practically zero.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the strategy.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest suggestions, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

Its versatility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high costs and low performance..

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the finest ways of decarbonisation.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

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 been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The plan keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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 market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.


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 savings”.

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary strategy, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The brand-new technique mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

It has likewise released 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 approach for computing these emissions.

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies must establish both blue and green options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

Contrast of rate quotes across various technology types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

Brief (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & with no practical guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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 factor in market development”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

In the example picked for the assessment, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

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

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

The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests potential hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.”.

Dedications made in the brand-new method include:.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous researchers deem more effective and cost-effective innovation.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top priority. The technique also consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. It includes strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Coverage of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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 competitors in 2021. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. " As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] 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 programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions 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 go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures technique might also offer some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this service design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary method. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for individual households. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher bills or public funds. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. These agreements are created to overcome the expense space in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal financial investment and an income system to provide funding for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for companies intending to get in the sector.