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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

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

On the other hand, company choices around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Specialists 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 capability expands.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

Its versatility indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently experiences high costs and low performance..

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at practically absolutely no.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Nevertheless, as with many of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, specifying that the government should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the impact 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.

Comparison of cost quotes throughout different technology types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on very high methane leak and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

It has actually likewise launched 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 approach for determining these emissions.

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as … Read More.

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 strength as the main consider market advancement”.

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

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

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 dispute”. He says:.

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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

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

The CCC has alerted that policies must establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.


The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses released together with the main technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

The document does not do that and rather says it will supply “more information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022″.

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

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars and trucks. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more economical and efficient technology.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” As the strategy admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Nevertheless, the strategy likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading priority. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to choose its concerns thoroughly. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clarity. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to enter the sector. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this company model will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released together with the main method. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. These agreements are developed to overcome the expense space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater costs or public funds. Now that its technique has been released, the federal government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and an income mechanism to offer funding for the organization model. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.