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

Specialists have actually alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capability expands.

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could satisfy up to a third of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Today we have actually published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry release the marketplace to cut expenses ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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 tasks”.

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high costs and low performance..

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, stating that the government must “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually zero.

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the main strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense 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% renewable.).

It has actually 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 methodology for calculating these emissions.

Environmental groups and many researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a pledge to “settle design components” of such standards by early 2022.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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

Contrast of rate quotes throughout different technology types at central fuel rates 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 “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

The new method mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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 intensity as the primary consider market development”.


Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

The CCC has previously specified that the federal government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

The CCC has actually alerted that policies need to develop both blue and green alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government need to “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

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

Quick (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & 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.

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

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

Dedications made in the new method include:.

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

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment 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.

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

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous researchers deem more cost-efficient and efficient innovation.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered leading concern.

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Protection of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The federal government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. This remains 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. 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, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique may likewise provide some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to offer funding for business model. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to get in the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for individual homes. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage 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 admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the primary method.