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.

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

Firm choices around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Its versatility implies it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

The document consists of an exploration of how the UK will expand 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.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at essentially zero.

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

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

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a similar range to other studies.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget impact evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The plan notes that, in some cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

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

This opposition capped when a current study led to headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The CCC has actually alerted that policies should develop both green and blue choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of 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.

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

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of 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 way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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 debate”. He states:.

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a series of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..


Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government need to “live to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen 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 CCC has previously mentioned that the government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs released alongside the primary technique, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

The figure listed 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

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

The brand-new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those locations which include most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more affordable and effective innovation.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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. The government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. However, the method likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heatpump.. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 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. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "do not include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Protection of the report and federal government marketing materials stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. " As the technique confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government anticipates << 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 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique may also provide some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this company design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main method. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to offer funding for the service model. These contracts are created to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher bills or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 strategy confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its strategy has been released, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for individual homes. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.".