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

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

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen technique 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.

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

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

However, just like many of the governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

Its flexibility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high rates and low effectiveness..

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

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically zero.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “familiar with a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

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

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

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans concern fulfillment it might then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

The strategy likewise called for 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 minimize dependence on natural gas.

The document contains an expedition of how the UK will broaden production and develop a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Environmental groups and lots of researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

The technique specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

It has actually also released 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 methodology for determining these emissions.

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

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

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

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.


The file does not do that and instead states it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched together with the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main aspect in market development”.

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

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

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

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation 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. The method likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps.. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to select its priorities thoroughly. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items cars, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Protection of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which many scientists see as more economical and effective innovation. " As the method admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to utilize it where there are couple of 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. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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. So, 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 use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Commitments made in the new method consist of:. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and offering versatility to the power system. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures strategy may likewise supply some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These agreements are created to overcome the cost gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to enter the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this company model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the main method. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate private investment and a profits system to offer financing for business model. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really little" for specific families.