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

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

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.

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

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 industry as capability expands.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has 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 automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at essentially absolutely no.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in lots of sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

As with most of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

The document consists of an exploration of how the UK will broaden 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.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high rates and low performance..

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on gas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential component in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The previous is essentially 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 record 100% of emissions..

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to develop both blue and green choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

This opposition came to a head when a current study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals 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 excluded.

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

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen available..

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released along with the main method, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

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 says:.

It has 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 calculating these emissions.

The document does not do that and rather states it will provide “further detail on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

Supporting a range 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.

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

The CCC has actually previously stated that the government needs to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

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 intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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


The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

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 pick its concerns thoroughly.

In the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Dedications made in the new strategy include:. Nevertheless, the technique likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heat pumps.. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. The committee stresses that hydrogen use must be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and supplying versatility to the power system. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers view as more affordable and efficient innovation. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Government analysis, included in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "most likely" be important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The government is more optimistic about making use of 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 below suggests. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. " As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] 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 statement. Coverage of the report and federal government marketing materials stressed that the governments strategy would offer enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading concern. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for space 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 create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific homes. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. Sharelines from this story. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released together with the main strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage 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 confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. 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 money would come from either higher costs or public funds. The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen business design to motivate personal investment and an income system to supply financing for business model.