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 technique and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Specialists 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 market as capacity expands.

Meanwhile, firm choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee 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 technique offers more information on how the federal government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently 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 in-depth explainer.).

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

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Its flexibility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently suffers from high costs and low performance..

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

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the federal 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.

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other research studies.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but market figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

The document contains an exploration of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Hydrogen development for the next decade is anticipated to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must develop both blue and green alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will supply “further information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released together with the main method, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The brand-new strategy mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

Short (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & with no sensible guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of 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 strength as the primary element in market development”.

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

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

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

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


However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leakages from gas facilities and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

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 savings”.

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

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

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

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

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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 argument”. He states:.

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

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices 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.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more effective and cost-effective technology.

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector.

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

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)".. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. However, the strategy likewise consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps.. " As the strategy admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to use it where there are couple of 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 declaration. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Commitments made in the brand-new method include:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 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 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings technique might also provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to provide funding for business model. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy 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 [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there wont be considerable quantities 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. These agreements are designed to get rid of the cost space between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Now that its technique has been released, the government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a similar premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the main method. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific families.