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 might satisfy up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

On the other hand, company 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 delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and car stock modifications.

Its versatility suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high costs and low performance..

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

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

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market let loose the market to cut costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

The file contains 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 actually been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, mentioning that the government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

Prior to the brand-new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically zero.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans pertain to fruition it might then broaden substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..

The CCC has actually formerly mentioned that the government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched together with the main method, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

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

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


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

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 intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

Quick (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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 atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold 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 file does not do that and rather states it will provide “additional information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however 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..

In the example picked for the consultation, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were left out..

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

The government has released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle style aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

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 debate”. He says:.

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to pick its concerns carefully.

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Dedications made in the new technique include:.

However, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector. The method likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be crucial for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody 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 usage cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "do not add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading concern. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which many scientists consider as more affordable and effective innovation. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we require to utilize it where there are few alternatives 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. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for area and hot 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. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also provide some clarity. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its technique has actually been released, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business model to encourage private financial investment and a revenue mechanism to provide financing for business model. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. These contracts are designed to get rid of the expense gap between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this company model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched alongside the primary strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific homes.