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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Experts 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 market as capacity expands.

Firm decisions around the level of hydrogen use 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.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

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

The file consists of 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 been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an essential part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

However, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, stating that the federal government must “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances 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 strategy.

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

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

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

However, as the chart below programs, if the governments strategies pertain to fruition it might then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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:.

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

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed 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 capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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 element in market advancement”.

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses released together with the main method, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government should “live to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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


Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

The plan keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The figure listed below from the consultation, 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 techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

The new strategy largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The document does not do that and instead states it will supply “more detail on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

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

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

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

The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items vehicles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully.

However, in the actual report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. 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 merit order, because not all usage cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for usages that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Nevertheless, the strategy also consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps.. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given top priority. 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 competition in 2021. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the short-term. " As the technique confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electric vehicles, which lots of scientists deem more economical and efficient technology. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " 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.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise offer some clarity. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are designed to overcome the cost gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for specific households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to enter the sector. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate private financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for business model. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the main method.