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

Professionals have actually cautioned 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 capacity expands.

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

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page technique and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets 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 facilities and automobile stock modifications.

The strategy also 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 dependence on natural gas.

In its brand-new method, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and says it desires the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The file contains an expedition 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the government needs to “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

As with most of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it could then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in numerous sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

Its versatility implies it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently experiences high prices and low performance..

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, however covers a comparable range to other studies.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most 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 thorough explainer.).

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The federal government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle design components” of such standards by early 2022.

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will offer “more detail on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

The new technique largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

Jess Ralston, an analyst 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 market lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the impact 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 left out.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs launched together with the primary method, shows 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% renewable.).

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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.


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

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

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

Supporting a range of jobs will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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 strength as the main element in market advancement”.

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

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

The CCC has actually previously specified that the federal government should “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, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it counted on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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.

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

The method likewise consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

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

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

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the government to choose its priorities carefully.

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 third of the size of the current power sector.

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered top priority.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. " Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which include most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". " As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists view as more effective and cost-efficient technology. 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 use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are designed to conquer the expense gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to encourage private investment and a profits mechanism to provide funding for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really small" for private homes. The new hydrogen technique validates that this service model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. Hydrogen need (pink area) 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 will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.