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

Professionals have warned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Hydrogen will be “critical” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

As with most of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the government should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

In its brand-new strategy, 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 “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

However, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans concern fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

The federal government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise design components” of such standards by early 2022.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).


The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

The file does refrain from doing that and rather says it will offer “further information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

This opposition came to a head when a recent study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The CCC has cautioned that policies should develop both blue and green choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

Comparison of cost estimates across various technology types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government must “live to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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 argument”. He states:.

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

Supporting a range of projects will give the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

The new technique largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the main technique, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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 strategy.

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

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 strength as the primary aspect in market development”.

There was significant 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 step of global warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are couple of options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment 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. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric cars, which numerous researchers see as more efficient and economical technology. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont add the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered top priority. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its priorities thoroughly. Coverage of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments plan would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. This is 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 3rd of the size of the present power sector. The strategy likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy may likewise provide some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to get in the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake 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 method confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to motivate private financial investment and an earnings mechanism to supply financing for the service model. The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released together with the main strategy. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for individual households. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. These contracts are designed to conquer the expense space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.".