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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Specialists 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 “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a third of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the federal government.

On the other hand, company 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 consultation for the time being.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

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 states it desires the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest suggestions, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the method.

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans concern fulfillment it could then expand significantly– comprising between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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 mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on gas.

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high costs and low efficiency..

The file includes an exploration 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.

However, as with the majority of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently 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 extensive explainer.).

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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 dispute”. He says:.

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

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 strength as the main consider market development”.

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

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

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

The CCC has alerted that policies need to develop both blue and green options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

The plan notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will offer “further detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022″.

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

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

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..


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

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

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

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

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals 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 excluded.

There was significant 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 procedure of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided leading priority.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which lots of researchers consider as more effective and cost-efficient technology.

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

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which include most value. The government has actually not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

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

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

The method likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps..

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and offering flexibility to the power system.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for uses that “dont include the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its concerns carefully.

Protection of the report and government advertising materials stressed that the governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

However, in the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. However, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. " As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to utilize it where there are few options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. The government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 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 upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells 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 last choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Now that its technique has actually been released, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific households. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the primary technique. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher bills or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be substantial amounts 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 gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen business model to motivate personal financial investment and an earnings system to supply funding for the business design. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for companies aiming to get in the sector. Sharelines from this story.