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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

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

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

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, stating that the government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

As the chart listed below programs, if the governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to start gradually, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

Its adaptability means it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high costs and low efficiency..

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..


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

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

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies must establish both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

The brand-new method mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He says:.

It has 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 determining these emissions.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released along with the main technique, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

The government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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 strength as the primary factor in market development”.

Brief (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

” 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 up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

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

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Nevertheless, the method also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electric heatpump..

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

In the actual report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. The federal government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short term. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". " As the method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the new method include:. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical cars, which lots of scientists deem more cost-efficient and efficient technology. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to "locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and providing flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 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 federal government says it will examine mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also offer some clarity. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are developed to overcome the expense gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". The new hydrogen technique confirms that this organization design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released together with the primary method. Now that its method has actually been released, the government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific households. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to motivate personal investment and an income mechanism to supply funding for business model. Hydrogen demand (pink location) 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there wont be considerable quantities 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. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to get in the sector. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater expenses or public funds.