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

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Professionals have warned 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 capability expands.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans concern fruition it could then broaden substantially– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently suffers from high costs and low efficiency..

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as an essential element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with lots of 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 very best means of decarbonisation.

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

The document consists of an expedition of how the UK will broaden 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.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its most current suggestions, but covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

However, just like most of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs launched along with the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government should “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

This opposition capped when a current study resulted in headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

The CCC has formerly mentioned that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design elements” of such standards by early 2022.

The CCC has warned that policies need to develop both blue and green options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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 dispute”. He states:.

The CCC has actually formerly specified “appropriate emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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 main consider market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.


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

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

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will supply “more detail on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment 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.

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

The beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

” As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to utilize 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.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and providing flexibility to the power system.

Nevertheless, the technique also includes the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heat pumps..

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the government to pick its top priorities carefully.

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

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading concern.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more cost-effective and efficient innovation.

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. 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 "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items cars, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "left open" the door for uses that "dont add the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may likewise supply some clarity. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for specific households. " 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 innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its method has been released, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to provide funding for the organization model. These contracts are developed to overcome the expense gap in between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main method.