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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

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

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

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

The plan also called for 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 reliance on gas.

In its brand-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 says it wants the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and car stock changes.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The plan keeps in mind 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”..

Short (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & without any sensible regulations. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released alongside the primary method, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

It has actually likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for computing these emissions.

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term measure of global warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study resulted in headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

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

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

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

Comparison of cost estimates throughout various technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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:.


CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the effect 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 excluded.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen offered..

The file does not do that and instead states it will provide “additional detail on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government should “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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 intensity as the main factor in market advancement”.

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

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

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

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

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

In the actual report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which many scientists deem more cost-effective and effective innovation. Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. " Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". The government is more positive 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 indicates. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading priority. Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competitors in 2021. Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items cars, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. However, the strategy also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump.. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. So, my lovelies, I just 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, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns carefully. Dedications made in the new technique include:. " As the method admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures technique may likewise supply some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to motivate private investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for the business design. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are developed to overcome the cost space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection 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 money would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific families. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to enter the sector. Now that its strategy has been released, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this company model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released along with the primary strategy.