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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page method and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Experts 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.

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 federal government.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the full variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

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

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

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

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

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

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, specifying that the government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and automobile stock modifications.

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

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it could then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..


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

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

Short (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & with no sensible policies. 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 actually cautioned that policies should establish both green and blue options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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 argument”. He states:.

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

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

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

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will offer “further information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main technique, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

The brand-new technique mainly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government must “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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 “think about 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”.

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

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

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which many researchers consider as more efficient and economical technology.

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to “locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

So, my lovelies, I just 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 benefit order, because not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Nevertheless, the strategy also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heat pumps.. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. Protection of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. The government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. " Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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 CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. " As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its concerns carefully. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might likewise offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Now that its strategy has been published, the government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the primary strategy. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for private families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to get in the sector. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and a profits system to offer financing for business model. These contracts are designed to overcome the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.