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

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

Company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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 essentially non-existent.

Hydrogen will be “critical” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a 3rd of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the federal government.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

As with many of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

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

The file consists of an exploration of how the UK will expand production and create a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “aware of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

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

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

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

In its new strategy, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and states it desires the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent advice, but covers a similar variety to other research studies.

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost 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.).

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of 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 emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

Short (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & with no reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

The file does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “more information on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

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

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main aspect in market advancement”.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

The brand-new strategy mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold 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 left out.

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

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 debate”. He states:.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government must “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

Comparison of rate estimates throughout various innovation types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

It has likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for computing these emissions.

The CCC has alerted that policies need to develop both green and blue choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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


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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to select its concerns carefully.

This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

The strategy also consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

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

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars. This follows the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which many scientists consider as more economical and efficient technology.

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

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

It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

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

Protection of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had “exposed” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

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

However, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not clearly set out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy may likewise supply some clarity. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? These contracts are designed to overcome the cost space in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Now that its strategy has been released, the government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 wont be considerable 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. 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 "extremely small" for private families. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and an income system to supply funding for the company design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary technique.