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

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

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

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 industry as capacity expands.

Meanwhile, firm choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Its adaptability implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high prices and low performance..

As the chart below programs, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden considerably– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

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

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new market.

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

Companies 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 pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

The strategy likewise 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 decrease reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen is widely seen as a vital part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, but covers a comparable variety to other studies.

In its new technique, the UK federal 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.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy 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 absolutely no.

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

Comparison of cost quotes throughout different innovation types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing 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 expenses of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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 atmosphere, an amount known as … Read More.

Supporting a variety of tasks will give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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


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 factor in market development”.

The file does not do that and rather states it will provide “more information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

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

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

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched together with the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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 blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He states:.

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to develop both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

The new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term measure of global warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

In the example chosen for the assessment, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were excluded..

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

The former is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leakages from gas infrastructure and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

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

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require proof 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 competitors in 2021.

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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will take advantage of the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the current power sector.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

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

The new method is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The federal government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use 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– offered leading concern.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] 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 programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest automobiles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which many scientists deem more cost-effective and effective technology.

However, the strategy likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heatpump..

Dedications made in the new strategy include:.

However, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for area and warm 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. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures method might also supply some clarity. 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 goal to make a final decision in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate private investment and a profits system to offer financing for the company design. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for individual households. These contracts are created to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher bills or public funds. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this service design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary technique. Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to get in the sector.