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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could meet up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Professionals have cautioned that, with hydrogen in short 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 method offers more information on how the federal government will support the development of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

However, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans concern fruition it could then broaden substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other studies.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

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

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

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

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

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan 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 essentially no.

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

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

The plan also 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 decrease reliance on natural gas.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen expenses launched together with the main technique, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

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

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

Contrast of price estimates throughout various innovation types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He states:.


” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

The brand-new strategy largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly terribly & & without any sensible policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

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

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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 “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must develop both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

The plan notes that, in some cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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 danger of gas industry lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

It contains plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

The strategy likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

The government is more optimistic 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 below shows.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

” As the method admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually “left open” the door for usages that “dont include the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler automobiles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which lots of researchers deem more effective and cost-effective innovation.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use need to be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

However, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

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

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Protection of the report and government advertising materials stressed that the governments strategy would provide enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top concern. Dedications made in the new method include:. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. 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%. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures method might likewise offer some clarity. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. These agreements are created to conquer the cost space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its strategy has been published, the government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Much of the resulting press coverage 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 bills or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink location) 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 substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this business design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched alongside the primary method. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for individual homes. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate private financial investment and a revenue system to supply funding for business model. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "built on a similar premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business intending to enter the sector.