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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it might then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “mindful of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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 plan, and states it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at practically absolutely no.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025″ laid out in the method.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

The CCC has alerted that policies must develop both green and blue alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

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 catch 100% of emissions..

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

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

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

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

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

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

Short (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & without any practical guidelines. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..


The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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 advancement”.

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

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

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit 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.

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle style components” of such requirements by early 2022.

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “additional detail on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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 method for determining these emissions.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial 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.

The method also consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps..

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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.

Federal government analysis, included in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which lots of researchers deem more efficient and economical technology.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to “locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and providing versatility to the power system.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

” As the technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “dont include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clarity. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen strategy validates that this business design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced together with the main method. Now that its method has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage 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 confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for individual homes. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply funding for business model. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. These contracts are created to conquer the cost gap in between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to get in the sector.