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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial component in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

In its brand-new method, 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 nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent recommendations, however covers a similar range to other studies.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

The plan 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 reduce reliance on gas.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and car stock changes.

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies pertain to fruition it might then broaden substantially– comprising between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “mindful of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

Nevertheless, as with the majority of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of needs, mentioning that the federal government needs to “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Quick (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & without any practical guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

The CCC has actually 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”.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen readily available..

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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 states:.

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government should “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

In the example chosen for the assessment, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

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

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the main strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as … Read More.


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

Government analysis, included in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

The federal government is more positive about using 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 suggests.

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 benefit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

The method likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Commitments made in the brand-new method include:.

Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to choose its top priorities thoroughly.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

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

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous researchers see as more cost-efficient and effective innovation.

Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Nevertheless, 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 reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need 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 programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top priority. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions 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. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures technique may also offer some clarity. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for specific families. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this organization design will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced alongside the primary technique. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate personal financial investment and an income mechanism to provide financing for the business design. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. These agreements are created to overcome the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms.