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

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could consume to a 3rd of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

However, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand significantly– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “conscious of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an essential part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the federal government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

The file consists of 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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

Its flexibility means it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently suffers from high rates and low efficiency..

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

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

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 strategy, and says it desires the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

This opposition capped when a current study caused headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The new strategy mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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


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 dispute”. He says:.

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 intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

The strategy keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise style aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Environmental groups and numerous researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

The CCC has previously mentioned that the federal government needs to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will provide “more detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

It has actually also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for computing these emissions.

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

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it depended on very high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas infrastructure and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the primary technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

Supporting a variety of jobs will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the federal government should “live to the threat of gas market lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The figure below from the assessment, 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 approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

Nevertheless, the method also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heatpump..

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

The new technique 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 goods lorries, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Commitments made in the brand-new method include:.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to “locations less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and providing flexibility to the power system.

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

This remains 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 current power sector.

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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments plan would provide adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the government to choose its priorities carefully. The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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 competitors in 2021. " Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- given leading priority. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This is constant with the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers see as more cost-effective and effective innovation. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " As the technique confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might also provide some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to enter the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific homes. These agreements are created to get rid of the expense space between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final 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 technique admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate personal investment and an income system to supply funding for business model. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the main method. " This will give us a much 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 [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms.

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