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

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Firm choices around the degree of hydrogen usage 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.

Professionals have actually warned 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.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Today we have released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry release the market to cut costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 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 crucial part of its net-zero strategy, and states it wants the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Nevertheless, just like most of the governments net-zero technique documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high prices and low performance..

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a vital element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on gas.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent advice, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the technique.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, specifying that the government must “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released together with the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The file does not do that and instead says it will offer “further detail on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a series 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”..

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen available..

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

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

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– said that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

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

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

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

The federal government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise style aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The figure listed 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 approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

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

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

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

Quick (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually 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.

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


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

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

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

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 argument”. He states:.

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

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 third of the size of the existing power sector.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists deem more effective and economical technology.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for usages that “dont include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt 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.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading concern.

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

It includes strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

The beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

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 “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, the method also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heatpump..

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the government to pick its top priorities carefully. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Coverage of the report and government marketing materials stressed that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Dedications made in the new technique include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might likewise supply some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has been released, the government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for individual families. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "built on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and an income system to provide financing for business design. The new hydrogen method verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released together with the primary method. These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space.