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

Professionals have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

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

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

Meanwhile, company choices around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a 3rd of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial element in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The plan likewise required 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 lower reliance on natural gas.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets 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 changes.

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

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

The document consists of 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.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

The document does not do that and instead states it will supply “additional detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

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

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

” If we wish to show, trial, begin 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 up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

Short (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main element in market development”.

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

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:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

The new method mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on really high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary technique, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon 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 omitted.

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


This opposition capped when a recent study led to headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

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

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which numerous scientists deem more effective and cost-efficient innovation.

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

Coverage of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to “locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

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, the method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electrical heat pumps..

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

Nevertheless, the starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to select its top priorities thoroughly.

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

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

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

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Finally, in order to develop 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 aim to make a last choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings strategy may also supply some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate personal financial investment and an earnings system to supply financing for the company model. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary method. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for specific families. Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to go into the sector.