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

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

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

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

Company 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 postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at virtually absolutely no.

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on gas.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in numerous sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently experiences high costs and low effectiveness..

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

However, just like most of the governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

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

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole market let loose the marketplace to cut costs increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital assistance 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

In its new strategy, 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 wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “conscious of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent recommendations, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The new method mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

Contrast of price quotes across various innovation types at central fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

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

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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 strength as the primary element in market development”.

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

Short (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any sensible policies. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The CCC has actually 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”.

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


The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will offer “additional detail on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the main strategy, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

The new method is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” As the method confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] 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 declaration.

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

The method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

The government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests.

Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment 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 competition in 2021.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its concerns thoroughly.

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.

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered leading priority.

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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests potential hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for usages that "do not add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers view as more economical and effective technology. Commitments made in the new strategy include:. 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. Existing energy demand in the UK for space and warm 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. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures method may also provide some clearness. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to motivate private financial investment and an income system to offer financing for business model. The brand-new hydrogen method confirms that this company model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 method admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar premise to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to get in the sector. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are designed to get rid of the expense gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds.