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

Specialists have cautioned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capability expands.

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest advice, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then broaden significantly– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

The file contains 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.

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Its flexibility means it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently suffers from high costs and low effectiveness..

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as an essential part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on natural gas.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Brief (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any sensible regulations. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

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 figure 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses released alongside the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount known as … Read More.

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

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

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

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

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

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

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

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

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

However, in the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. Government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy goods cars, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " As the technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The strategy also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to choose its priorities carefully. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. This remains 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 existing power sector. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and supplying versatility to the power system. So, my lovelies, I simply 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which many scientists consider as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also offer some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business intending to go into the sector. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage private financial investment and an earnings system to offer funding for business model. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this company model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the primary method. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 admits, there will not be significant amounts 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. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "very small" for individual homes. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. These agreements are developed to conquer the cost space between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space.