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 virtually non-existent.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, company choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

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

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, stating that the government needs to “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget impact evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The file includes an exploration 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

Its flexibility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high rates and low effectiveness..

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on natural gas.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The former is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from gas infrastructure and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

The document does refrain from doing that and rather states it will supply “additional information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

It has actually also launched 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 approach for determining these emissions.

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on very high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to establish both green and blue choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals 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 left out.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the technique. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary technique, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

The new strategy largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

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


CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

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

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 advancement”.

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

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

This remains 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal investments into those locations which include most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use must be restricted to “locations less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we require to utilize it where there are couple of options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

However, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

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

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

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

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which many researchers view as more cost-efficient and efficient technology.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to pick its concerns carefully.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for uses that “dont include the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

However, the strategy likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electric heat pumps..

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for area and warm 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. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy may also offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Lastly, in order to create 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 decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to enter the sector. The brand-new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released along with the primary method. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion 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 wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost space in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate private financial investment and a profits system to offer funding for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "very little" for individual households. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.".