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

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

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

Firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high prices and low performance..

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

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

Nevertheless, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually no.

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then broaden considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

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

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

Critics also 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 drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

In its new strategy, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and states it desires the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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


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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He states:.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term measure of global warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

Supporting a range of tasks will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government need to “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

It has actually likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for determining these emissions.

Contrast of rate estimates across different technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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 strength as the main consider market development”.

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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 methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the main technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

Brief (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly terribly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to pick its concerns carefully.

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

In the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Dedications made in the new technique consist of:. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy goods cars, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we need to use it where there are few options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. The committee stresses that hydrogen use need to be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. The technique also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous scientists consider as more affordable and effective innovation. Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for space and warm 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. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures technique might also supply some clarity. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage 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 come from either greater bills or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and a revenue system to supply funding for business design. The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced together with the primary method. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to go into the sector. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are developed to conquer the cost gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for individual families.