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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

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

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

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

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

However, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

As the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to begin slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the method.

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

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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

The technique specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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


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 argument”. He states:.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs released together with the primary method, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

The document does not do that and rather says it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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

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

The plan keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the impact 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.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining 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 inadequate green hydrogen offered..

It has actually also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for calculating these emissions.

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

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

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its priorities thoroughly.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Dedications made in the new strategy consist of:.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electric heat pumps..

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

” As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which numerous scientists deem more efficient and economical technology.

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public investments into those areas which include most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

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

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

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

However, in the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. 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%. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs 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 upcoming heat and structures strategy may likewise supply some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage 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 method confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are created to get rid of the expense space between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to go into the sector. The new hydrogen method validates that this service design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released along with the main technique. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage personal investment and a revenue system to offer funding for the organization design. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, 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 higher expenses or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really small" for specific households. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.".