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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and analyzes some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Firm choices around the degree 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.

Professionals have actually 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.

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 practically non-existent.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and lorry 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 plan, and says it desires the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “mindful of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the full variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Nevertheless, similar to most of the federal governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it could then broaden significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other studies.

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Its versatility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently suffers from high prices and low efficiency..

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 specifically on green hydrogen.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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 green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He states:.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen available..

The CCC has actually warned that policies should establish both blue and green options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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 intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

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

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

The brand-new method mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” method 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 amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

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

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

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

It has actually 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 method for computing these emissions.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

Brief (hopefully) 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 document laying out hydrogen costs launched along with the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government need to “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to “locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had actually “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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– offered leading concern.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

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

In the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Nevertheless, the strategy also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electrical heatpump.. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "likely" be important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Commitments made in the new method consist of:. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we require to use it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its concerns carefully. Coverage of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which lots of scientists see as more efficient and affordable innovation. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures method might likewise offer some clarity. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? These contracts are developed to overcome the cost gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to encourage personal financial investment and an income system to provide funding for business design. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a similar facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. " This will give 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 essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched along with the main strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to enter the sector. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for private households. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds.