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

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

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

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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

In its new technique, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a key part of its net-zero plan, and states it desires the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest recommendations, however covers a similar range to other studies.

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

The document 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 actually been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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 areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock modifications.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

Nevertheless, similar to most of the federal governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

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

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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 says:.

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

The figure below from the assessment, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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 technique. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise style elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

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

Quick (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & with no reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

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

The brand-new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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


This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity 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 permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government should “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

The document does refrain from doing that and rather states it will supply “more information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

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

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use need to be restricted to “locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided top concern.

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

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

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

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

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

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

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

” As the technique confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

Dedications made in the new technique consist of:.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which many scientists deem more efficient and cost-efficient technology.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of 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.

However, the method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". 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 expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also supply some clearness. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen method confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released together with the main strategy. Now that its method has been published, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for private families. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and a revenue system to offer financing for business model. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " 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 role that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. These agreements are developed to conquer the expense gap in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to get in the sector.