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

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

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 essentially non-existent.

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of demands, mentioning that the government needs to “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have cautioned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

However, as with many of the federal governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent recommendations, however covers a similar range to other studies.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the governments strategies concern fruition it might then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

In its brand-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 says it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Short (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & without any reasonable guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

Supporting a range of tasks will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

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

Many researchers and environmental groups 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 states allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the main method, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The brand-new method largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle design elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

It has also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for calculating these emissions.

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

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The file does not do that and rather states it will offer “additional detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.


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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a limit 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 excluded.

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

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous researchers view as more economical and effective innovation.

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

Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

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

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

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

The method also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps..

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to pick its priorities carefully.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

” As the method admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are couple of options 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.

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

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. This is 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 present power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies 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. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might also supply some clearness. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds. The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate private investment and an earnings mechanism to provide funding for the company model. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. 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 evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts 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. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Now that its technique has been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced along with the primary strategy. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for private households.