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 some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

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

On the other hand, company choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

Nevertheless, 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 require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock modifications.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a vital component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Nevertheless, as with the majority of the governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

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

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on really high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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


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

The document does not do that and rather states it will offer “further information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

Comparison of rate estimates across different innovation types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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”..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

In the example chosen for the assessment, 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), stated in a declaration that the government should “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

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

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.

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

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

Quick (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly terribly & & without any reasonable regulations. And then 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, 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 states:.

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary technique, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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 development”.

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

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

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

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

The brand-new method mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment 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.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public investments into those areas which include most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

However, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

In the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to select its priorities carefully. Commitments made in the new method include:. The strategy likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Coverage of the report and government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. The new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and providing versatility to the power system. The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers consider as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. 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 third of the size of the present power sector. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also supply some clearness. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are developed to conquer the expense gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink location) 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 industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method validates that this company design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched along with the main method. Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue system to supply funding for the business model. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "built on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for private households.