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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

In some applications, hydrogen will take on electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the best ways of decarbonisation.

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

Nevertheless, as with most of the federal governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

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

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

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.

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start an entire market let loose the marketplace to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments strategies pertain to fruition it could then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Its versatility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an essential part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government should “be alive to the risk of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

In the example chosen for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

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

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a series of assumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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 dispute”. He says:.


The previous is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas infrastructure and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

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

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs launched together with the main method, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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 primary consider market development”.

The document does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “more information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The government has released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “settle design elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

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

However, 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)".. Dedications made in the new method include:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. It contains plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The government is more positive about making use of 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 indicates. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which lots of researchers deem more cost-efficient and effective innovation. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The method also includes the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. " As the technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to utilize it where there are few options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "do not add the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. 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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may also offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to provide financing for business design. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, 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 higher costs or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. These agreements are created to get rid of the expense gap in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy intake 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen technique validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released alongside the primary method. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms.