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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen method 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.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at essentially zero.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock changes.

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

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Nevertheless, as with the majority of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

Its flexibility means it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on natural gas.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an essential component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses released together with the main method, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

In the example picked for the consultation, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

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

The figure 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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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


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

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 dispute”. He states:.

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 stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government need to “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study caused headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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 primary consider market advancement”.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

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

It has also launched 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 methodology for computing these emissions.

The plan notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025″..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, 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.).

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

Supporting a variety 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 terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

Quick (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really severely & & with no sensible policies. 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 cautioned that policies need to develop both green and blue choices, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

How will hydrogen be utilized in various 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 attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and providing flexibility to the power system.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

However, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont add the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more effective and cost-effective technology. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". " As the technique confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. Commitments made in the new method consist of:. However, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The strategy also consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- given leading concern. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to select its concerns thoroughly. The government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below indicates. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. 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". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. 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%. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method may also provide some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen business model to encourage personal investment and an income mechanism to provide funding for business model. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage 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 technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this business design will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the primary technique. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific households.