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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

Experts 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 capability expands.

Meanwhile, company decisions around the level 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 post, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page technique and examines a few of the primary 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 advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is practically non-existent.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

Today we have actually published the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry release the marketplace to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

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

However, as with most of the federal governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

Its flexibility means it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently suffers from high costs and low effectiveness..

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its most current guidance, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike 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 allow time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

Prior to the brand-new method, 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 essentially zero.

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He says:.

Contrast of cost estimates across various technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

Supporting a range of tasks will provide the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

Environmental groups and lots of researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released together with the primary method, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government need to “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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 primary consider market advancement”.

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

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

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

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

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

The file does refrain from doing that and rather states it will provide “additional detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must establish both blue and green options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.


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

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

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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– offered leading concern.

The strategy likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which many scientists view as more affordable and efficient innovation.

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

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

Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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 competitors in 2021.

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

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. However, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. " Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" 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 use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced along with the main technique. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 quantities 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. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to motivate private investment and an income system to supply financing for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really little" for specific families. These contracts are developed to get rid of the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "built on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Now that its method has been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press coverage 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 originate from either greater costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story.