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

Specialists have cautioned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

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

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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 wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

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

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

However, as with the majority of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Its versatility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently suffers from high prices and low effectiveness..

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on gas.

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

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

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and car stock modifications.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the federal government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as a vital element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs released together with the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Comparison of cost quotes throughout different innovation types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.


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

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the effect 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.

The plan notes that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

This opposition came to a head when a current study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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 “think about carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

The new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually committed to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

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 argument”. He states:.

The government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a pledge to “finalise design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

Quick (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & with no reasonable 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 file does not do that and rather says it will offer “additional detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we need to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top concern. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for usages that "do not include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. However, the technique likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps.. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "likely" be crucial for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of scientists see as more effective and cost-effective innovation. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its priorities carefully. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. " Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures technique may likewise offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final 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 method admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to go into the sector. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost gap between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher expenses or public funds. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen technique confirms that this service design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched along with the primary method. The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal investment and a revenue system to offer funding for business model. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:.