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

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen technique 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.

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

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

Specialists have actually 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.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest recommendations, but covers a comparable range to other research studies.

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

As with most of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the finest means of decarbonisation.

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

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

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

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

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, stating that the government needs to “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government need to “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.


The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it counted on very high methane leakage and a short-term measure of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

Short (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any practical policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen offered..

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

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– said that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main factor in market development”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released together with the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

The brand-new technique largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

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”.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis included in the technique. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

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

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

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:.

So, 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 usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its top priorities thoroughly. The new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal financial investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which many scientists see as more efficient and economical technology. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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 competitors in 2021. Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends potential 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. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. " As the technique admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. However, the method likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electrical heat pumps.. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might likewise provide some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to go into the sector. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 method confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " 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 attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to encourage private financial investment and an earnings mechanism to provide funding for business design. Now that its method has been published, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These agreements are developed to overcome the cost space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "extremely small" for individual households. The new hydrogen method verifies that this company model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the primary strategy.