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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Meanwhile, company decisions around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

However, similar to many of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

Its flexibility means it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high prices and low efficiency..

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent advice, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

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

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it could then broaden substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

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

The file contains an expedition of how the UK will expand production and create a market for hydrogen based on 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?

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

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

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

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government ought to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.


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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

The CCC has warned that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

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

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

It has actually likewise released 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 approach for calculating these emissions.

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main strategy, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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 dispute”. He states:.

This opposition capped when a recent study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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 omitted.

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

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

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

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

The new strategy mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to pick its concerns thoroughly.

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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 third of the size of the current power sector.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

The technique also includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps..

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

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

However, in the real report, the government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which many scientists see as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. Dedications made in the new method consist of:. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would provide enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might likewise provide some clarity. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those need to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 method confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization design will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the main method. Sharelines from this story. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for individual households. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and a profits mechanism to supply financing for the business design. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to enter the sector. Now that its method has been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. These agreements are created to conquer the cost space between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space.