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

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

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

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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a third of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

However, as with the majority of the federal governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the technique.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it could then expand significantly– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a vital part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “familiar with a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently suffers from high rates and low effectiveness..

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The document does not do that and rather says it will offer “additional detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a range of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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 argument”. He says:.

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

The CCC has previously stated that the federal government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035″ in its hydrogen method.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

The new technique largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

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

Contrast of cost quotes across different innovation types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The CCC has actually alerted that policies should establish both green and blue alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

Short (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the primary strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).


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

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle style components” of such requirements by early 2022.

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 main consider market advancement”.

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

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

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. However, the method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps.. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". The committee stresses that hydrogen use must be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and supplying versatility to the power system. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof 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. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which many researchers view as more efficient and cost-effective technology. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The federal government is more optimistic about making use of 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. This is 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 present power sector. 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 usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its priorities thoroughly. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading concern. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might also offer some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched alongside the primary technique. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake 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 industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for individual households. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to motivate private investment and an earnings system to offer financing for the company model. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are designed to conquer the expense space between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap.