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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Firm choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “familiar with a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in lots of sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at virtually absolutely no.

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

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

In its new method, 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 desires the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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 aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

However, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the method is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent suggestions, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

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

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

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, specifying that the government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs 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 says:.


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

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched along 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.).

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government should “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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 main consider market advancement”.

The plan keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The method mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen readily available..

The government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a pledge to “finalise design elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

It has actually likewise released 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 approach for calculating these emissions.

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

The new strategy largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has committed to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

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.

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests 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 houses.

The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

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

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

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

Coverage of the report and government marketing materials emphasised that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which many scientists view as more cost-efficient and effective innovation.

” As the technique confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to utilize it where there are few 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.

The strategy likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its priorities carefully.

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 use cases for clean 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.

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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.

The new method is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term. Dedications made in the new method include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also offer some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has actually been released, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. The new hydrogen method confirms that this organization design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main strategy. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for private families. Hydrogen demand (pink location) 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are developed to overcome the expense space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business intending to get in the sector. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and a profits system to provide funding for the business model. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "built on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds.