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

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

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

Specialists have actually alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

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

On the other hand, firm decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest suggestions, however covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget impact evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

In its new method, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a crucial part of its net-zero plan, and states it wants the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

Nevertheless, similar to most of the federal governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments strategies pertain to fruition it could then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

Prior to the brand-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 capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically zero.

The document consists of an exploration 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 wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently suffers from high rates and low performance..

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

The new method mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

It has also released 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 paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

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 argument”. He states:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of global warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released together with the primary strategy, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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


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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

” If we wish to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

The CCC has previously defined “suitable emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas cost savings”.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the current power sector.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers deem more cost-effective and effective innovation.

The government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below indicates.

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

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Require proof 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 competition in 2021.

Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns thoroughly.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

Dedications made in the new technique consist of:.

Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests potential hydrogen need 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.

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

” As the technique admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] 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 statement.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

However, the method also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electrical heat pumps..

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings method may likewise provide some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to offer funding for business design. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater costs or public funds. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for private homes. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this company design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main method. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to enter the sector. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Sharelines from this story. These contracts are designed to conquer the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.