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

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

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 market as capability expands.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Meanwhile, company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

However, similar to most of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

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

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

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans concern fruition it could then broaden significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

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

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

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

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 reduce dependence on gas.

The file contains 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 actually been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Its flexibility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently experiences high prices and low performance..

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the full range is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “familiar with a potential pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind 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 permit time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the primary technique, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).


This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold 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 excluded.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

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

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

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

In the example picked for the consultation, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

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 understood as … Read More.

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 industry lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & without any reasonable policies. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the main element in market development”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on extremely high methane leak and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Supporting a range of tasks will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

The brand-new technique mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

The government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “settle style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

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

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 dispute”. He states:.

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

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

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

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

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Nevertheless, the technique likewise consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heatpump..

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those areas 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 rather mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

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

Commitments made in the new method consist of:.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to utilize it where there are few options 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.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical vehicles, which many researchers deem more affordable and efficient innovation.

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to choose its top priorities thoroughly.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

However, 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)".. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given top concern. The federal government is more positive about using 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 listed below suggests. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also supply some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage private financial investment and an income mechanism to offer financing for the organization design. Hydrogen demand (pink area) 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 strategy confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched together with the primary method. These contracts are created to overcome the expense space in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for individual families. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "built on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:.