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

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

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

On the other hand, company choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high rates and low performance..

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

As with many of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

The strategy 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 lower reliance on natural gas.

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

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

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.


The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from gas infrastructure and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

The CCC has actually previously mentioned that the federal government needs to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

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 says:.

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

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says 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 offered..

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact 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 excluded.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

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

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

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 development”.

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will supply “more detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the existing power sector.

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

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

However, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous scientists consider as more efficient and cost-effective innovation.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

However, the strategy likewise consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electric heat pumps..

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly laid 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 identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

Commitments made in the new method include:.

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competition in 2021.

” As the method confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are few alternatives 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.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be crucial for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might also offer some clearness. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those need to be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection 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 come from either higher expenses or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink location) 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 wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for private families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to go into the sector. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen service model to motivate private investment and an income system to offer funding for the service design. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". These agreements are developed to conquer the expense gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this service model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the primary strategy.