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

Experts have actually cautioned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capability expands.

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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen strategy 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.

Meanwhile, 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 postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “important” 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.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently experiences high costs and low performance..

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

However, as with most of the governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the government should “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies pertain to fruition it could then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, however covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

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 says it desires the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government should “be alive to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

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

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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He says:.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing 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 different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The CCC has actually warned that policies need to establish both green and blue choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

It has actually likewise 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 calculating these emissions.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

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

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

Brief (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & without any practical regulations. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

This opposition came to a head when a recent study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit 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.

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The plan notes that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..


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 leakage and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The file does not do that and instead says it will supply “more information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

The new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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”.

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

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

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

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

However, the technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electric heat pumps..

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered top concern.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

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

It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which numerous scientists see as more effective and cost-effective innovation.

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

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Call for 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”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to pick its concerns carefully.

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

Commitments made in the new strategy include:.

” As the technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

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

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

In the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may likewise supply some clearness. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage private financial investment and an earnings mechanism to provide financing for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific households. 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 market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to go into the sector. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Sharelines from this story. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final 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 quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method verifies that this business design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main technique.