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 strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could fulfill up to a 3rd of the countrys energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

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

The document contains an exploration of how the UK will expand production and create a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

In its brand-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 says it wants the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, but covers a similar range to other studies.

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an essential component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Nevertheless, as with the majority of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Today we have 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 support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the complete range is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

This opposition came to a head when a current study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.


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 “think about carbon strength as the main element in market development”.

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

The document does not do that and rather states it will provide “further information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

Supporting a range of jobs will offer the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

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

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

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out the 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 complete.”.

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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched together with the primary technique, shows the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The CCC has actually formerly specified “appropriate emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government must “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

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

Comparison of price quotes across various technology types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025″..

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

” As the method admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need 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 statement.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests prospective hydrogen demand 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Nevertheless, the strategy also includes the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump..

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

This is 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.

Coverage of the report and government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical automobiles, which many scientists consider as more economical and effective innovation.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– provided leading concern.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to pick its priorities thoroughly.

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

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Call for 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”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

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, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

In the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings strategy may also provide some clarity. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and an income system to offer financing for business design. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake 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 method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. 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 considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched together with the main technique. Now that its method has actually been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. 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 originate from either greater bills or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "really little" for individual families. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.".