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

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

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

Company choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

The document contains an exploration of how the UK will expand 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.

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

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at virtually no.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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 “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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 method.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its latest recommendations, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

Its versatility suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high costs and low effectiveness..

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets 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 infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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 strength as the main consider market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit 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 excluded.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government should “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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


The CCC has formerly 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 given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise design components” of such standards by early 2022.

This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen readily available..

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & with no practical policies. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The brand-new method mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He states:.

The CCC has actually warned that policies should establish both green and blue options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to choose its concerns thoroughly.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

However, the method also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heatpump..

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

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

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

The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment 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. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for uses that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. " As the method confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous scientists view as more efficient and cost-effective innovation. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading priority. Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. Dedications made in the new method include:. " Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has not clearly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". However, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 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 research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might also provide some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater bills or public funds. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for private families. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal investment and an income system to provide funding for the organization design. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are developed to conquer the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. The new hydrogen method validates that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released together with the main strategy. Now that its method has been released, the government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to get in the sector.