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

Hydrogen will be “important” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could consume to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the government.

Meanwhile, company decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage 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.

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Its versatility implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the method.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on gas.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

The file 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 actually been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

As with many of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

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

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

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

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments strategies pertain to fulfillment it could then broaden significantly– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

In its brand-new technique, 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 nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold 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.

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 states:.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

This opposition capped when a current research study caused headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary method, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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 calculating these emissions.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

Supporting a variety of tasks will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.


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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as … Read More.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

The file does not do that and rather says it will offer “further information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022″.

” If we wish to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

The brand-new strategy mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government must “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually 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 identified through pilots and trials.”.

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Nevertheless, 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 complete with electric heat pumps..

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

In the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to pick its top priorities carefully. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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. Dedications made in the new strategy consist of:. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. The committee stresses that hydrogen use must be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Protection of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers deem more economical and efficient technology. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy may likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main method. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the market would be "really small" for individual homes. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to offer financing for the business model. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable amounts 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. Sharelines from this story. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher bills or public funds. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". These contracts are developed to get rid of the cost gap in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to get in the sector. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar property to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms.