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

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

Meanwhile, 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.

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a vital part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

The plan likewise required 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 lower dependence on natural gas.

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

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently suffers from high rates and low effectiveness..

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in numerous sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

The file consists of an exploration of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current guidance, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually no.

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

As the chart below shows, if the governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then broaden significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The CCC has formerly specified “appropriate 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 a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term step of global warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

The new technique largely avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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


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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

The CCC has actually alerted that policies need to develop both green and blue alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

Contrast of rate estimates throughout various innovation types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

Short (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched alongside the main method, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The former is essentially zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from gas infrastructure and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

” As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are few 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 declaration.

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more cost-effective and efficient innovation.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public financial investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

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

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be important for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Nevertheless, the method also includes 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..

Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and providing flexibility to the power system.

This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector.

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

Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. 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. Present energy need in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may likewise supply some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 technique confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate private investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for business model. " This will provide 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 budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released alongside the main method. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "very little" for private households. These agreements are developed to overcome the cost gap between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:.