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

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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page technique and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Professionals have actually 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 capability expands.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

Its flexibility means it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have warned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

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

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

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

However, just like many of the governments net-zero strategy documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

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

In its new method, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and states it desires the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

It has also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for determining these emissions.

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the main method, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Brief (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & without any sensible policies. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.


The method mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a range of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “more information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

At the heart of many discussions 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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the main factor in market development”.

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 blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He states:.

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount known as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government need to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The CCC has alerted that policies should establish both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided top concern.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for uses that “dont add the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term.

The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Dedications made in the new strategy include:.

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

However, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers view as more affordable and efficient innovation. " As the method admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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. Protection of the report and federal government advertising products stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the government to choose its priorities thoroughly. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method might also supply some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to go into the sector. These agreements are created to get rid of the expense gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Now that its strategy has been released, the government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the market would be "extremely small" for individual homes. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this company model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the main strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate private financial investment and an income system to provide funding for the business model. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds.