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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, firm choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

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

However, as with the majority of the governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually warned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, however covers a similar range to other studies.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

The strategy notes that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..


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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study led to headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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..

The new strategy mainly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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 “consider carbon strength as the main aspect in market development”.

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

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will offer “additional information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022″.

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

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen available..

Short (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

Supporting a variety of jobs will give the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He states:.

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to develop both green and blue choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

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

It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

” As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we require to use it where there are couple of 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.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

Dedications made in the new strategy include:.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and providing flexibility to the power system.

The method likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

The federal government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals market– offered top priority.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal investments into those areas which add most worth. 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.”.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had “left open” the door for uses that “dont include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including 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 anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

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

The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This follows the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous scientists consider as more affordable and effective innovation. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully. Coverage of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will examine blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might likewise offer some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and an income mechanism to supply financing for the organization design. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake 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 technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". According to the governments news release, its favored model is "developed on a similar property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for private families. These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense space between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to enter the sector. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched alongside the main method. Sharelines from this story.