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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page strategy and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a third of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

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 advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the government should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

Today we have published the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry 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.

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based on the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on natural gas.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent advice, however covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals 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 omitted.

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

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

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

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

The brand-new technique largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

Supporting a range of tasks will give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

This opposition came to a head when a current study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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

It has actually likewise 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 method for computing these emissions.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the main method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).


Environmental groups and numerous scientists 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 intensity as the main consider market development”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

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 leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

In the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term. " As the technique confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen need 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. The government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully. Protection of the report and federal government marketing materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Dedications made in the new strategy include:. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and offering versatility to the power system. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. The new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone 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 usage cases are equally likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Call for 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 competitors in 2021. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous researchers deem more economical and effective technology. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. The technique also includes the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading concern. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". 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 task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise offer some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen service design to encourage private financial investment and a profits system to provide funding for the service model. These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen method verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released alongside the primary method. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the market would be "really little" for private households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to enter the sector. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption 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 method mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.