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

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

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

Specialists 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 capability expands.

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Its flexibility means it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

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

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

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

However, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then broaden significantly– 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, just like most of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty 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 upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, but covers a similar variety to other research studies.

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

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 must “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

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 capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually zero.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

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

In its new method, 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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

Short (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & without any 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 chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs launched along with the primary technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold 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 omitted.

The document does not do that and rather says it will provide “further information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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

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

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

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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He states:.

It has 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 approach for determining these emissions.

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

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

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main element in market advancement”.

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

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

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..


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

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

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

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

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

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation 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 current power sector.

Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its concerns carefully.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

The brand-new strategy 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 crucial for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products cars, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Dedications made in the new method consist of:.

” As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heatpump..

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

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– given leading priority.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competitors in 2021.

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

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous researchers deem more cost-effective and efficient innovation. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy may likewise offer some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this company design will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the main strategy. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable 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. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for specific households. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate personal investment and an earnings system to provide financing for business model. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.".