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

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

On the other hand, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start an entire market release the market to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

The strategy 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 minimize reliance on gas.

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

Its versatility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low performance..

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

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– 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 document contains an expedition of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current suggestions, but covers a comparable range to other research studies.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated 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 strength as the primary consider market development”.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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

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

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

The CCC has actually formerly mentioned that the government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs launched together with the main technique, shows the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The file does not do that and rather says it will supply “more detail on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He says:.

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

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

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

The CCC has actually formerly defined “appropriate emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government must “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

Quick (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any practical policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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 method for determining these emissions.

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

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

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private investments into those locations which include most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Coverage of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

The strategy likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require proof 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 competition in 2021.

It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to select its priorities carefully.

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

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

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

” As the strategy admits, there will not be considerable 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 simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This follows the governments focus on electric automobiles, which many researchers consider as more efficient and cost-efficient innovation.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Commitments made in the new strategy include:. The new method is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique may likewise supply some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and an earnings mechanism to offer funding for the organization design. Sharelines from this story. 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 market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for individual homes. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen method verifies that this business model will be settled 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 released together with the main strategy. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. These agreements are created to get rid of the cost gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. Hydrogen need (pink location) 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 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 strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.