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

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

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

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

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

Company choices around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its latest suggestions, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically absolutely no.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in numerous sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

In its new method, 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 nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high prices and low effectiveness..

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it could then broaden considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 cost savings”.

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 strength as the main aspect in market advancement”.

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, but 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..

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government should “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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 dispute”. He says:.

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect 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 left out.

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

Brief (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

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

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The brand-new method mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.


The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary method, reveals the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount known as … Read More.

The government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the existing power sector.

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

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

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electric cars, which lots of scientists deem more effective and cost-effective innovation.

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

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Commitments made in the new technique include:.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully.

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

It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for usages that “dont include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial 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. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. " As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. However, the method also consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to contend with electric heat pumps.. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment 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. Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy products cars, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing 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. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? 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 market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and an income mechanism to supply financing for the company design. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 strategy admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for private homes. Sharelines from this story. The new hydrogen method validates that this business design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released together with the main technique. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. Now that its strategy has been released, the government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "built on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms.