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

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

Experts have 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.

Meanwhile, company choices around the degree 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 “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could satisfy up to a third of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous countries 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 newest recommendations, however covers a comparable range to other studies.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Its flexibility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently experiences high prices and low performance..

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new market.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

In its new technique, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a key part of its net-zero plan, and says it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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 primary aspect in market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as … Read More.

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

Environmental groups and lots of scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out the usage 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 technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government need to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The CCC has previously defined “ideal emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released alongside the main method, reveals the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

The figure below from the consultation, 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 omitted.


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

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

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

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

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

The file does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “more information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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

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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs 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:.

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

It has likewise launched 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 methodology for computing these emissions.

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

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

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

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

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we need to utilize it where there are couple of 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers deem more cost-efficient and efficient technology.

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

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

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

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

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be important for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

However, the method also consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heatpump..

Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends 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.

Coverage of the report and government marketing materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.”.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its top priorities carefully. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading concern. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Require 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. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings technique might also supply some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to enter the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for individual families. These contracts are created to get rid of the expense space in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion 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 technique confesses, there wont be substantial amounts 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 news release, its favored model is "built on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this service model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the main strategy. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has been published, the government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to encourage private investment and an income system to offer funding for the service model.