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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could satisfy up to a 3rd of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

Experts have actually warned 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 capability expands.

On the other hand, firm choices around the degree 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.

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually no.

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

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

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

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

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

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently suffers from high rates and low performance..

As the chart below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it could then expand significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

Today we have actually published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start an entire industry unleash the market to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

In its new technique, 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 nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

It has 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 determining these emissions.

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

Comparison of price quotes across different technology types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term procedure of global warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The former is essentially zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas facilities and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

The brand-new strategy largely avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both varieties.

Environmental groups and many researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

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

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

This opposition capped when a current study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released alongside the main strategy, shows the anticipated 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% sustainable.).


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

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

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 threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies must develop both blue and green options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had “exposed” the door for usages that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

” As the method confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long 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.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require 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 competitors in 2021.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical automobiles, which lots of scientists see as more efficient and cost-effective innovation. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private investments into those locations which add most value. The government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below indicates. Nevertheless, the method likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electric heatpump.. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:. Protection of the report and federal government marketing materials stressed that the federal governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and offering versatility to the power system. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. 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%. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise supply some clarity. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine 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, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". According to the governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable property to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. These contracts are created to overcome the cost gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its method has been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last 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 method confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate private investment and an income system to provide financing for the organization design. Sharelines from this story. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this company design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the primary method. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for individual families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to enter the sector.