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

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

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could use up to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

On the other hand, company choices around the extent 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.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on gas.

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

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

However, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero technique documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the governments plans pertain to fulfillment it might then broaden substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations total 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?

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

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

Short (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any practical policies. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as … Read More.

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

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


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

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

The former is basically zero-carbon, however 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 capture 100% of emissions..

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released together with the main strategy, shows the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

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 global warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

It has actually likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for determining these emissions.

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of 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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary element in market advancement”.

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

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

The CCC has previously stated that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035″ in its hydrogen technique.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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 says:.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen available..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

The strategy likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps..

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to choose its concerns carefully.

My lovelies, I just 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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 concern.

Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

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

Protection of the report and federal government advertising products stressed that the federal governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. 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 third of the size of the current power sector. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we need to use it where there are few options 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. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers see as more cost-effective and effective innovation. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those areas which include most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also provide some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". These contracts are developed to get rid of the expense space between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Now that its technique has actually been released, the government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to enter the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate personal investment and a profits mechanism to supply financing for the business design. The new hydrogen method confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the primary strategy. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for individual households.