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

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

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

Company choices around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could meet up to a 3rd of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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 aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

However, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then broaden significantly– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Prior to the brand-new strategy, 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. Currently, this capability stands at essentially zero.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have cautioned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

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

Its adaptability implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high prices and low effectiveness..

However, as with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

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

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an essential element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.


The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The CCC has actually warned that policies must develop both green and blue options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government ought to “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The new strategy mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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 argument”. He states:.

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & with no sensible policies. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

This opposition capped when a current study resulted in headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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 main consider market development”.

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining cars and trucks to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be crucial for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists deem more efficient and cost-efficient technology.

Government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns carefully.

Dedications made in the new method include:.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Protection of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

” As the method admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices 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.

In the real report, the government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered top priority. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings method might likewise provide some clearness. Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will examine mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released alongside the primary technique. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage 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 substantial 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. These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for specific households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable property to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. 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 higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to encourage personal financial investment and a profits system to provide funding for the company design.