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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Company decisions around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Specialists have actually warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

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

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

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 should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

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

As with many of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

In its new technique, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero strategy, and states it desires the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

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

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The new strategy mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

The government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it counted on very high methane leak and a short-term step of international 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”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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 argument”. He says:.

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

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

The CCC has warned that policies must establish both green and blue choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out 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.”.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.


Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to government analysis included in the technique. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs released together with the main method, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coverage of the report and government marketing products stressed that the federal governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to choose its top priorities thoroughly.

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

The federal government is more optimistic about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

In the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. So, my lovelies, I just 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 equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has actually not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". The method also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps.. Government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. " As the method admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Commitments made in the new technique include:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered leading priority. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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 competitors in 2021. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electrical automobiles, which numerous scientists view as more cost-effective and effective innovation. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present 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. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states 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. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique might likewise supply some clarity. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to enter the sector. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. These contracts are developed to overcome the expense space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this business model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced along with the main strategy. According to the governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for specific homes. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher costs or public funds. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to provide funding for the company model.