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

Experts have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

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

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

Hydrogen will be “important” 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.

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, mentioning that the government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

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

As with many of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

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

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 areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in numerous sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently suffers from high prices and low performance..

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its newest recommendations, but covers a similar variety to other research studies.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at virtually no.

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

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden substantially– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

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

Today we have actually released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire industry unleash 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.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The government has released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a pledge to “settle design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

The CCC has actually warned that policies must develop both green and blue choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.


As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis included in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

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 main factor in market advancement”.

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a series of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however 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 catch 100% of emissions..

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

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

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

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 dispute”. He states:.

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

The file does not do that and rather says it will provide “additional detail on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

Contrast of rate estimates throughout various technology types at central fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main method, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a limit 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 omitted.

This opposition came to a head when a current study resulted in headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

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

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

The technique also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous scientists deem more effective and affordable innovation.

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 usage by 2035, as the chart below shows.

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

Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– given top priority.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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.

This remains 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.

Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:.

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

The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The brand-new method 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 crucial for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to "locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and providing versatility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand 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 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says 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. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may also supply some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen company design to motivate private investment and an income mechanism to provide financing for business model. According to the governments news release, its favored model is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific homes. The new hydrogen method verifies that this company model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the main strategy. These contracts are developed to get rid of the cost space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press protection 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. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to go into the sector.