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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might satisfy up to a 3rd of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

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

Professionals have actually 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 market as capability expands.

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current recommendations, however covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

The document consists of an exploration of how the UK will broaden production and produce a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Nevertheless, similar to many of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have cautioned that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

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

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

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently struggles with high rates and low performance..

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start gradually, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the method.

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fruition it could then expand considerably– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

A current 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 commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs released together with the main technique, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The CCC has warned that policies should establish both green and blue choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– explaining that it counted on very high methane leak and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The method mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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:.

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

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– stated that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary element in market advancement”.

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows 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 excluded.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

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

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

The brand-new method mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The document does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “further detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

In the example chosen for the assessment, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

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

The former is basically 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 record 100% of emissions..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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


For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen offered..

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

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

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which numerous scientists view as more effective and economical technology. Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The method likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps.. So, my lovelies, I simply 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. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. Commitments made in the new technique consist of:. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. " As the method confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to select its concerns thoroughly. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment 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 competition in 2021. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the 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. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also provide some clearness. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate personal investment and an income mechanism to provide financing for the service design. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for individual families. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this organization design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the main strategy. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to go into the sector. Now that its method has been released, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. These contracts are created to overcome the cost space in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen need (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 wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds.