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

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

Hydrogen will be “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might meet up to a third of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the federal government.

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen strategy supplies more information on how the government will support the development of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

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

On the other hand, company decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

As the chart below programs, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then expand considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Its adaptability implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently suffers from high rates and low performance..

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

As with most of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen expenses launched along with the main method, shows the anticipated declining 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% renewable.).

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

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

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

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 “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

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

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies should develop both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

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

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The figure 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 methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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 debate”. He says:.

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

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

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

The document does not do that and rather says it will provide “more detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The strategy notes that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..


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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government must “be alive to the risk of gas market lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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

The beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

However, the method likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump..

In the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to select its top priorities carefully. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " As the method admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading concern. Protection of the report and government marketing products stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which many researchers consider as more effective and economical innovation. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. So, my lovelies, I simply 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 merit order, because not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy might likewise offer some clearness. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen service design to encourage personal investment and an earnings system to provide funding for business design. The new hydrogen method confirms that this company model will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the primary strategy. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies aiming to get in the sector. 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 market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the market would be "really small" for individual homes. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final 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 admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap.