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

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

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

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

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

Firm choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “familiar with a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

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

The file contains an expedition 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 wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Its adaptability implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock modifications.

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

The strategy 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 decrease dependence on natural gas.

As with many of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

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

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

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as a crucial element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

Brief (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

The new technique mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

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 factor in market advancement”.

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

Supporting a range of jobs will give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released along with the main strategy, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government ought to “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

” As the method admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– provided top concern.

Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to pick its priorities thoroughly.

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

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

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Protection of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering flexibility to the power system.

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

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

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous researchers consider as more cost-effective and efficient innovation.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

However, in the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for area 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. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method may likewise provide some clearness. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for private households. The brand-new hydrogen method confirms that this service design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released together with the main method. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector. These agreements are designed to overcome the expense gap between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to provide funding for business design. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has actually been released, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:.