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

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

Company choices around the degree 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.

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget impact assessment and the full variety is based on the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent suggestions, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

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

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

Its versatility indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential element in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then broaden considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

However, as with many of the federal governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

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

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

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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


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

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government must “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

It has actually also launched 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 approach for computing these emissions.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

The government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “settle design elements” of such requirements 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)– stated that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.

The document does refrain from doing that and instead says it will offer “further detail on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary method, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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 argument”. He states:.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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

The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from gas infrastructure and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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

” If we wish to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the impact of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

The new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and providing flexibility to the power system.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals market– provided top concern.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

However, in the actual report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those locations which include most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". 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 important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Protection of the report and government advertising products stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which numerous scientists consider as more effective and economical technology. Dedications made in the new strategy include:. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its top priorities carefully. 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 rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require 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. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. However, the method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electrical heat pumps.. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also provide some clarity. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen strategy validates that this service design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched along with the main technique. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal financial investment and an earnings mechanism to supply funding for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for companies aiming to get in the sector. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities 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 protection of the hydrogen method, 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 higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for private homes. These agreements are created to conquer the cost space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space.