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

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

Professionals 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 capability expands.

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fruition it might then expand significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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 strategy, and says it desires the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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 widely seen as a crucial component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock changes.

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market release the market to cut expenses ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Nevertheless, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have warned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released alongside the primary strategy, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main factor in market development”.

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

The new technique mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

This opposition came to a head when a current study caused headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

In the example picked for the assessment, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

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

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

The CCC has alerted that policies must develop both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “settle style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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


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

The file does not do that and rather states it will supply “additional information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022″.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows 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 left out.

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

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:.

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to select its priorities thoroughly.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be crucial for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy products cars, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The federal government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading priority. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical cars, which many researchers see as more efficient and affordable innovation. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. However, the strategy likewise includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump.. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to "locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. " As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Coverage of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 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. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has been published, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched along with the primary strategy. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage 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 industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a similar facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to go into the sector. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage private financial investment and a profits system to offer funding for the business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific families. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.".