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

Professionals have warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

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

Firm choices around the degree of hydrogen use 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.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and examines a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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 federal government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to begin gradually, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

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

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

The file includes an expedition of how the UK will broaden production and produce a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically no.

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on natural gas.

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 increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital assistance 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the full range is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important element in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fruition it could then broaden considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock changes.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Brief (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any practical regulations. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then 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 deliberations are complete.”.

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..


The brand-new technique mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has committed to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a limit 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 left out.

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

There was substantial 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 leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The CCC has previously defined “suitable 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 alerted that policies should develop both blue and green options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

The file does not do that and rather states it will supply “further information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

It has also launched 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 approach for determining these emissions.

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

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs released alongside the main method, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment 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 competition in 2021.

Coverage of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to choose its priorities carefully.

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

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– given top priority.

In the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and providing versatility to the power system. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for usages that "do not add the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers see as more affordable and efficient innovation. It includes strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The federal government is more positive about the usage of 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 industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. Nevertheless, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. The technique likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise offer some clarity. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce 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 goal to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and a revenue mechanism to provide financing for the organization design. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Now that its method has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really little" for specific families. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 technique confesses, there will not be significant quantities 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. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to get in the sector. The new hydrogen method validates that this business model will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched together with the main technique. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space.