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

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

Meanwhile, firm choices 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.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and takes a look at some 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 essentially non-existent.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock modifications.

As with most of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

The file consists of an expedition 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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Hydrogen is widely seen as a vital element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, specifying that the federal government should “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

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

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high rates and low performance..

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy 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.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on gas.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The CCC has actually warned that policies need to establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The document does not do that and instead states it will offer “additional detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary strategy, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows 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.

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

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 says:.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of 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 “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

Brief (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.


This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government should “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

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.

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

The new method mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

The 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 necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” As the method confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to utilize it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement.

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

Protection of the report and government advertising materials stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

In the real report, the 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 everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to choose its concerns carefully. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. The 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 usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. This is 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. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and offering flexibility to the power system. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler automobiles. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which lots of researchers view as more effective and cost-effective innovation. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. However, the technique also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heatpump.. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might likewise provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. These agreements are designed to get rid of the cost gap in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen service design to motivate personal financial investment and an earnings system to provide financing for the business model. 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 originate from either greater bills or public funds. The new hydrogen strategy verifies that this company design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched along with the primary strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for private families.