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

Specialists have actually 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 capacity expands.

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, but covers a similar range to other studies.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

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

Its versatility means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

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

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

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the strategy.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based on the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then expand substantially– comprising between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we wish 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 up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

The government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

The new method mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

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 intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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 savings”.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs released along with the main technique, shows the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

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

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen available..

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

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

The method mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

At the heart of numerous conversations 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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He states:.


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

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

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the existing power sector.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "dont include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private investments into those locations which add most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which numerous researchers deem more effective and economical innovation. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Coverage of the report and government promotional products stressed that the governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The method likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps.. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. The new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy items cars, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used 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. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading concern. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand 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. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for private families. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake 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 method admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to get in the sector. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. These agreements are developed to overcome the expense gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and an income system to supply funding for the business design. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched alongside the primary strategy.