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

Firm decisions around the level 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 assessment for the time being.

The UKs 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.

Professionals have cautioned 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 achieving the UKs net-zero target and could meet up to a 3rd of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of needs, specifying that the federal government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

In its new method, the UK 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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

As with many of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

The strategy 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 mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on natural gas.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, but covers a similar variety to other research studies.

Its adaptability suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Environmental groups and numerous researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the primary strategy, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Comparison of price estimates throughout different innovation types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

The CCC has actually 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 government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a pledge to “finalise style components” of such standards by early 2022.

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 strategy. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Short (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & without any reasonable guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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 aspect in market advancement”.

It has actually likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for computing these emissions.

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, 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 plan keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The brand-new strategy largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

At the heart of lots of discussions 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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the impact 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 left out.

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

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

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

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

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

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists deem more effective and cost-effective innovation.

The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone 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 usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use need to be limited to “locations less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for usages that “dont include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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 competition in 2021.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

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

Commitments made in the new strategy include:.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps..

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

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

” As the technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

In the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space 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. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique may likewise provide some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". These agreements are designed to get rid of the cost gap between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released along with the primary technique. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to enter the sector. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen company model to motivate private financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for business design. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for specific homes. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink location) 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 industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be substantial 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.