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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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 market as capacity expands.

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

Company decisions around the degree 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 assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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 strategy, and states it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then broaden considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Nevertheless, just like most of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently experiences high costs and low effectiveness..

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Comparison of rate quotes throughout various technology types at central fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

Environmental groups and numerous researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon 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 left out.

The CCC has formerly defined “ideal emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas cost savings”.

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

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government need to “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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


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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

The government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a promise to “settle design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

In the example picked for the assessment, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

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

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

The document does not do that and rather states it will provide “further information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

It has actually also released 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 approach for calculating these emissions.

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 green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He states:.

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses released alongside the main strategy, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as … Read More.

The brand-new technique mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary aspect in market development”.

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

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

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy 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.

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

However, in the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The federal government is more optimistic about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. The strategy also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps.. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which many researchers consider as more effective and affordable innovation. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "left open" the door for uses that "do not include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. 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 priority. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy include:. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Protection of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Nevertheless, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to select its top priorities thoroughly. " As the technique admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also supply some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. How does the 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, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a similar property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely little" for specific households. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate private financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply funding for business design. The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched along with the primary method. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 strategy confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has been released, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". These contracts are created to conquer the cost space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector.