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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

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 way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Experts have actually 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 industry as capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “mindful of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy 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.

Its versatility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently suffers from high costs and low efficiency..

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

As the chart below programs, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then expand considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based on the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

However, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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 dispute”. He says:.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the strategy. (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), said in a statement that the government ought to “live to the threat of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The document does not do that and instead says it will provide “more detail on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

Comparison of price estimates throughout different technology types at main fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

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

The new strategy mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it counted on very high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the main strategy, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study led to headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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 intensity as the main factor in market advancement”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Environmental groups and many researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both blue and green alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

Protection of the report and government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

Commitments made in the new method include:.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its priorities carefully.

” As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to utilize it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement.

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

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

The method also consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which many researchers consider as more efficient and affordable innovation.

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests potential hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, 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 relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for usages that "do not add 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 lots of specialists have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. 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 depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures method may likewise offer some clearness. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage 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 strategy admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate private financial investment and an earnings mechanism to provide financing for the business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to get in the sector. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for specific households. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business design will be settled in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched along with the primary method. Much of the resulting press protection 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 greater bills or public funds. These contracts are developed to get rid of the cost gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has actually been released, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms.