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

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen method provides more information on how the federal government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is practically non-existent.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Experts have 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 capacity expands.

Firm choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “critical” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might consume to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

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

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 costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the federal government must “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

As with many of the federal governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

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

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

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

As the chart below programs, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Supporting a range 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.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government must “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary element in market advancement”.

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


The CCC has actually cautioned that policies should establish both green and blue choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

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

Comparison of cost estimates across different innovation types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold 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.

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

The brand-new strategy mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen expenses launched together with the main strategy, reveals the anticipated declining 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% renewable.).

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

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

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous scientists deem more efficient and cost-efficient innovation.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use need to be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and providing versatility to the power system.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Nevertheless, the technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heatpump..

It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to pick its concerns thoroughly.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. However, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Protection of the report and government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies 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 hot 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. 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 choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also supply some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen business model to encourage private investment and a revenue system to supply funding for the organization design. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the market would be "very small" for specific homes. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". According to the governments news release, its favored model is "built on a similar property to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. The new hydrogen method confirms that this service model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched along with the primary strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. 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 dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. Now that its method has been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. These contracts are created to overcome the cost gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story.