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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page method and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a third of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the federal government.

On the other hand, firm choices around the level 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 assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural 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 extensive explainer.).

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the full variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as a crucial part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market development”.

The figure listed 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 left out.

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025″..

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

It has actually also released 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 computing these emissions.

The federal government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle style components” of such standards by early 2022.

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

The brand-new method mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen expenses released together with the primary technique, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).


For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

The file does not do that and instead states it will supply “additional information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

There was considerable 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 leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

Comparison of rate quotes across different technology types at central fuel prices 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 “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

Supporting a range 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.

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

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

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

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any sensible regulations. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more affordable and efficient innovation.

However, in the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. So, my lovelies, I just 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 be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " As the method confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are couple of alternatives 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. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation 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. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term. Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". However, the technique also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electric heatpump.. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given top concern. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its concerns carefully. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Call for proof 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". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy 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 suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also offer some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion 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 method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. " 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 technologies might play in attaining the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Now that its method has been published, the federal government says it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These contracts are developed to conquer the cost space in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this business model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched along with the main technique. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate private financial investment and an income system to offer financing for the service model. Sharelines from this story. 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 greater costs or public funds. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "developed on a similar premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for individual families.