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

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

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

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

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

Specialists 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 market as capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest advice, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on gas.

As the chart below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

However, as with many of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

In its brand-new method, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a crucial part of its net-zero plan, and says it desires the country to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The new technique mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

This opposition capped when a current study caused headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

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

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 “consider carbon strength as the primary aspect in market advancement”.

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

The federal government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle style aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

In the example selected for the consultation, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

Supporting a variety of projects will offer the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

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

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in 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 advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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 omitted.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs released together with the primary technique, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on very high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Environmental groups and lots of scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.


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

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering flexibility to the power system.

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals market– provided leading priority.

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

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

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Protection of the report and government promotional materials emphasised that the governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which lots of scientists consider as more effective and cost-efficient technology. " As the technique admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to utilize it where there are few options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a statement. My lovelies, I just 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The technique also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps.. The government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Commitments made in the new method include:. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. 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%. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also offer some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. The new hydrogen method confirms that this business design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the primary strategy. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for specific families. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense space between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher expenses or public funds. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 method confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. " 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 brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and an earnings mechanism to offer financing for business design.