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 must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could satisfy up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock changes.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent recommendations, but covers a similar range to other studies.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

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

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

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

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

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

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently suffers from high rates and low performance..

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries 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 neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on gas.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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 says:.

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

The file does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “more information on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

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

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the main method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

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

It has likewise launched 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 method for computing these emissions.

The government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “settle style aspects” 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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.


This opposition came to a head when a recent research study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

The strategy states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can only be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

Brief (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & with no sensible policies. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The figure below from the consultation, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

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

The new strategy mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

In the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and supplying versatility to the power system. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "left open" the door for usages that "do not include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The strategy also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The federal government is more positive about using 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. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. " As the method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given top priority. " Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". Coverage of the report and federal government advertising products stressed that the governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Call for proof 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. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more affordable and effective innovation. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those must be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures method might likewise provide some clarity. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for private households. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage 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 industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there wont be substantial 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. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for companies intending to enter the sector. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this business model 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 actually been released together with the primary method. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen service design to encourage private investment and an earnings mechanism to supply financing for the business model. Now that its method has actually been released, the government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are designed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms.