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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

In its new technique, the UK 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 “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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 blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

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

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

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

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

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

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

However, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

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

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock modifications.

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The plan notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs released together with the main technique, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals 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 omitted.

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main element in market development”.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government must “be alive to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen available..

The brand-new strategy mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

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

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to develop both blue and green alternatives, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

It has actually also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for computing these emissions.

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


This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

Environmental groups and lots of researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

The brand-new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

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

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

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to pick its top priorities carefully.

However, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not add the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the technique admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are couple of options 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. So, 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 use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top concern. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which numerous scientists view as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The method also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. 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 third of the size of the present power sector. Coverage of the report and government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 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. Existing 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. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy may also provide some clearness. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, 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. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for individual homes. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this service model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released along with the primary strategy. 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 confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "built on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage private financial investment and a revenue system to provide funding for the business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business intending to go into the sector.