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

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

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

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

Professionals have cautioned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the federal government needs to “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent suggestions, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

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

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden considerably– 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.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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, an amount known as … Read More.

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary technique, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He says:.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the primary factor in market development”.

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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


For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The CCC has actually previously mentioned that the government needs to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different paths to 2035″ in its hydrogen strategy.

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals 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 excluded.

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The document does refrain from doing that and rather states it will supply “further information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The federal government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle style aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

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

However, the method likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electrical heatpump..

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to pick its priorities carefully.

It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

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

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Protection of the report and government promotional materials emphasised that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top concern. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. " As the method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to use it where there are couple of 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 declaration. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Government analysis, included in the method, suggests possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous scientists see as more affordable and efficient innovation. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. Dedications made in the new method include:. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to enter the sector. Now that its method has actually been published, the government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense gap between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen business design to encourage personal financial investment and a profits system to offer financing for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the market would be "really small" for individual families. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last 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 industry "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities 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. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced together with the primary technique. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms.