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

Professionals have actually alerted 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 capacity expands.

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 essentially non-existent.

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

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

Its versatility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high prices and low performance..

As with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then expand considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

Today we have released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start an entire market 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.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released together with the main strategy, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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

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

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies should establish both blue and green options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The method mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government ought to “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The previous is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from gas facilities and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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


The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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 debate”. He says:.

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 intensity as the primary aspect in market advancement”.

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

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

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Require proof 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.

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

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical cars, which many scientists view as more cost-efficient and effective innovation. The federal government is more optimistic about the use of 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 listed below indicates. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-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 usage cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The technique likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. " As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to use 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 declaration. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its priorities thoroughly. Commitments made in the new method consist of:. 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 leading concern. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy may likewise supply some clearness. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to motivate personal financial investment and an income mechanism to supply funding for business model. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this service design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released alongside the primary strategy. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for private families. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". According to the governments press release, its favored model is "built on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to enter the sector. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:.