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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, specifying that the federal government needs to “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

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

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 plan, and says it wants the country to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a crucial component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then expand substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The figure below from the assessment, based on 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.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

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

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

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

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 dispute”. He states:.

Quick (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.


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

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

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

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

It has actually likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for determining these emissions.

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main method, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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

This opposition capped when a current study resulted in headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

The brand-new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

Supporting a variety of tasks will give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

” As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The technique also consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which numerous scientists consider as more effective and affordable innovation.

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

However, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Dedications made in the new method consist of:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered leading concern. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials stressed that the governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the existing power sector. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. However, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the short-term. The government is more positive about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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 competitors in 2021. 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 use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy may likewise provide some clarity. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely little" for individual families. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to go into the sector. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate private investment and a profits system to provide funding for the service design. Now that its method has been released, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this business design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the main strategy. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to meet our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.