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

Experts have cautioned 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.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Meanwhile, company decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage 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.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

However, just like many of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, however covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it could then broaden substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

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

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole industry release the marketplace to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the technique.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

It has actually also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for calculating these emissions.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the effect 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.

The brand-new technique mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

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

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

The document does not do that and instead states it will offer “more information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses 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)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the primary element in market advancement”.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released along with the main technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a series of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to establish both green and blue choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

The CCC has previously specified “ideal emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas cost savings”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

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

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

The method likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to “locations less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

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– provided leading priority.

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

In the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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 competition in 2021. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. " As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. Coverage of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous researchers view as more effective and economical innovation. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique may likewise supply some clarity. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific households. Now that its technique has been published, the federal government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These agreements are created to get rid of the cost gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in achieving the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen company model to encourage personal investment and a profits system to supply funding for the organization design. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher costs or public funds. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. The new hydrogen method confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released along with the main strategy.