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

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

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

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

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

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen technique provides more detail on how the federal government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is practically non-existent.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

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

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

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

As with many of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually zero.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

The document consists of an exploration 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 wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Its flexibility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in numerous sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an essential element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

As the chart below programs, if the governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

This opposition capped when a current research study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The strategy keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of 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 impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

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

The CCC has actually warned that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

The figure listed 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 techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

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 approach for computing these emissions.

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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

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

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

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

The government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a pledge to “settle style aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the main strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).


The brand-new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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 green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He says:.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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

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

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The method also includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its priorities thoroughly. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof 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 competitors in 2021. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to use 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. The new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This is constant with the governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers view as more economical and effective technology. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top concern. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "dont add the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings technique may also provide some clearness. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific households. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen technique validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the primary strategy. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 technique admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for companies aiming to enter the sector. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen service design to motivate private investment and a revenue mechanism to provide funding for business model.