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

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

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

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

Specialists have actually warned 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 capability expands.

On the other hand, company decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

As the chart below shows, if the governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest suggestions, however covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

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

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the full range is based on the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

Brief (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

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

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

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 argument”. He states:.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs launched along with the main technique, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

The brand-new technique mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

Contrast of rate estimates across different technology types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of global warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study led to headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

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 “consider 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 attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold 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 omitted.

The previous is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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


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

The government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise design components” of such standards by early 2022.

The CCC has actually previously specified that the government needs to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

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

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

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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 use by 2035, as the chart below shows.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its priorities thoroughly.

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

Commitments made in the new method consist of:.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

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

However, in the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading concern. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those areas which include most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Nevertheless, the strategy likewise consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and offering versatility to the power system. Protection of the report and government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which numerous scientists see as more effective and affordable innovation. 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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 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 states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method might also provide some clarity. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific households. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched along with the main method. Now that its method has been published, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to enter the sector. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 strategy admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable property to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space in between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and an income system to provide funding for the company model.