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

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

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

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page technique and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Meanwhile, firm choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

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

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to begin slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, however covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

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 country to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study caused headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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 expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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


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

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

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the main technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Supporting a range of projects will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus solely on green 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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, however 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 capture 100% of emissions..

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The new method mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

The document does not do that and rather says it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

It has actually also released 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.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies must develop both green and blue options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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 debate”. He states:.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the effect of setting a threshold 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 excluded.

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

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric vehicles, which numerous scientists consider as more efficient and affordable technology.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to choose its priorities thoroughly.

Nevertheless, the method likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heatpump..

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require proof 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.

Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had “exposed” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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 3rd of the size of the current power sector.

The new method is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

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

Government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to “locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody 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 usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. " As the strategy admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Protection of the report and government marketing materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method 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. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might likewise supply some clearness. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Now that its method has been released, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for private families. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability 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 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 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 technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen technique validates that this service model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the primary method. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage 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 money would come from either greater bills or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen business design to motivate private financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply funding for business design. These agreements are created to get rid of the expense gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story.