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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen strategy provides more detail 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 achieving the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a third of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

Meanwhile, company decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Professionals have alerted 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.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “conscious of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of considerable hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the method is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

As the chart below programs, if the governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then broaden substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

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

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

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 says it desires the country to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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 dispute”. He says:.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals 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 excluded.

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 “consider carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.


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

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

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

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

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

The brand-new method mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from gas facilities and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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 faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

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

It has likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for computing these emissions.

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

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs released along with the main technique, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– given top priority.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

The method also consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps..

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Coverage of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should 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 significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns carefully. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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. The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " As the method admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives 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. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. The government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers consider as more effective and cost-effective innovation. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. 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. Present energy need in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 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 take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique might also provide some clarity. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this company model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. These agreements are designed to get rid of the expense space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to motivate private investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to go into the sector. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for specific homes.