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 method and examines a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen strategy provides more detail on how the 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 technique?

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of needs, specifying that the federal government needs to “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently suffers from high rates and low efficiency..

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on natural gas.

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an essential element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

As the chart below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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”.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

Brief (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly terribly & & with no practical regulations. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

The CCC has formerly specified that the government must “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

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

The method mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise style aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

The figure 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 methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

The file does not do that and rather states it will provide “additional detail on our production method 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 file detailing hydrogen expenses released together with the main strategy, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

The new method mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government ought to “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

The federal government is more optimistic 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.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Dedications made in the new technique include:.

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

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

Nevertheless, the technique also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heatpump..

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

” As the technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to use 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.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and offering flexibility to the power system.

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products cars, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered top concern.

However, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which many scientists deem more efficient and cost-effective innovation. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to pick its priorities carefully. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those ought to 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 research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique may also provide some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen method validates that this service model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched alongside the main technique. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for companies aiming to go into the sector. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the market would be "really small" for specific households. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Now that its technique has been published, the government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to motivate private financial investment and an income system to offer funding for the organization model.