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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, company decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

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

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

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

However, as the chart below programs, if the governments strategies concern fulfillment it could then expand significantly– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government need to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The strategy keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

The figure 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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


The document does not do that and rather says it will supply “more information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released along with the main strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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 previous is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making 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 complete.”.

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 dispute”. He states:.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

The new method largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies must develop both blue and green options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

At the heart of numerous discussions 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 an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term step of global warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

Nevertheless, the technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

Require 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 competitors in 2021.

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

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

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric vehicles, which many researchers deem more efficient and economical innovation. " Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests potential 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. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. " As the technique admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to use it where there are few 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 statement. Coverage of the report and government marketing materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation 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 present power sector. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading priority. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to choose its concerns thoroughly. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also offer some clearness. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen company model to encourage private financial investment and an earnings system to provide financing for business model. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for private homes. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater expenses or public funds. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for companies intending to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced together with the primary technique. These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense space between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap.