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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Professionals have 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.

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

Meanwhile, company choices around the extent of hydrogen use 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.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “mindful of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

The document includes an exploration of how the UK will broaden production and produce a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Its flexibility 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 development for the next years is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

Prior to the brand-new method, 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. Presently, this capacity stands at practically no.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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 strategy, and says it desires the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent advice, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

Contrast of rate estimates across different 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 most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

Brief (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really severely & & without any reasonable guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He says:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses released together with the primary strategy, shows the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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 “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

The brand-new method largely prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has committed to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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 very high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

The government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle style components” of such standards by early 2022.

It has actually likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for computing these emissions.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

In the example chosen for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government need 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”.


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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term.

Call for 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”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to choose its priorities carefully.

However, the technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electrical heatpump..

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

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

However, in the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Dedications made in the new technique include:. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone 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 succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric vehicles, which lots of scientists deem more cost-efficient and effective technology. The committee stresses that hydrogen use need to be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Federal government analysis, included in the method, recommends possible hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Coverage of the report and federal government marketing materials emphasised that the governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. " As the method confesses, there wont be substantial quantities 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. Existing energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may likewise supply some clarity. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen technique validates that this company design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced alongside the primary strategy. Now that its method has actually been published, the government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These agreements are designed to overcome the cost gap between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "really small" for specific households. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to encourage private financial investment and a revenue system to offer financing for business model. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "built on a comparable property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector.