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

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

Company decisions around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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 virtually non-existent.

Experts have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief 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 technique and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of 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 actually been echoed by some industry groups.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies 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 actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a vital part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically zero.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually warned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

Its adaptability suggests it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low performance..

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

The strategy likewise 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 lower reliance on gas.

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 country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “familiar with a potential pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new market.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 aspect in market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

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

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

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & with no sensible guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for computing these emissions.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells 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 states:.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The CCC has previously specified “ideal emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The file does not do that and instead says it will supply “additional information on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

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

The CCC has actually warned that policies need to establish both green and blue options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

The new method largely avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.


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

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and offering flexibility to the power system.

The federal government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates.

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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 complete with electric heat pumps..

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to pick its top priorities thoroughly. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable 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. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This follows the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which numerous scientists deem more effective and cost-effective innovation. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. Protection of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " As the method admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to use it where there are few options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. " Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final 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:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method might likewise provide some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? " 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 function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for individual families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage 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 technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method verifies that this company design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main technique. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a similar facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are created to get rid of the cost gap in between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen business model to encourage personal investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for business model.