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

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

Experts have 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 industry as capability expands.

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

Firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to begin slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

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

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, however covers a similar range to other research studies.

As with many of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on gas.

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

In its new technique, 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 wants the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind 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 automobile stock changes.

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “mindful of a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of 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.

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high prices and low performance..

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He states:.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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 solely on green hydrogen.

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study led to headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the primary factor in market development”.

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of global warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary method, shows the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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 savings”.

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

The brand-new technique mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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


The previous is essentially zero-carbon, but 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..

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

The file does not do that and instead says it will provide “more information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which numerous scientists deem more cost-efficient and efficient technology.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

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

” As the method admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and providing flexibility to the power system.

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

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to select its concerns thoroughly.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

However, the technique likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heatpump..

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials stressed that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. " Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the reality 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. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends potential hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy may also supply some clearness. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? These agreements are designed to conquer the cost space between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "built on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion 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 strategy admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market 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 function that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater expenses or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy included a promise to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate personal investment and a profits system to offer funding for business design. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this service design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced along with the main strategy.