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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page method and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

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

Professionals have warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capability expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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 plan, and states it desires the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

As the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

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

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

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “aware of a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

Nevertheless, as with many of the federal governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

Its adaptability indicates it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically no.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government must “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

It has actually also launched 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 method for determining these emissions.

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

The figure listed below from the consultation, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to 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)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released along with the main strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

This opposition capped when a current study caused headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

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

Brief (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & with no practical regulations. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

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

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

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

The new strategy mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a pledge to “settle style aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

The file does not do that and rather says it will provide “more detail on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.


Environmental groups and numerous researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

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

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 says:.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electric vehicles, which numerous researchers consider as more economical and effective technology.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and providing versatility to the power system. Coverage of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the federal governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its priorities thoroughly. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term. The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. My lovelies, I simply 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 use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competition in 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. Government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. 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 current power sector. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". The method also consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures method may likewise provide some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to encourage personal investment and an earnings system to offer financing for the organization model. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "really small" for private homes. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this organization design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched alongside the primary technique. These contracts are created to conquer the cost space between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds.