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 third of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and analyzes a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Specialists have cautioned 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 capacity expands.

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

Company decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

As with many of the governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Its versatility suggests it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high costs and low performance..

The document includes an expedition 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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire market release 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.

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of 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 industry groups.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?


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

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

Supporting a range of projects will provide the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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 intensity as the main consider market development”.

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

The brand-new method mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both varieties.

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government ought to “live to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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:.

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

This opposition capped when a current research study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

The file does not do that and instead states it will provide “further information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

Brief (ideally) 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 expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

The figure below from the assessment, based on 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more cost-effective and efficient innovation.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry” and offering flexibility to the power system.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its priorities thoroughly.

” As the method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we need to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

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

Require 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”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Nevertheless, the method also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps..

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

Dedications made in the brand-new method include:.

However, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. 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 third of the size of the present power sector. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space and warm 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. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might likewise provide some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to motivate private investment and a revenue system to offer funding for business model. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These agreements are created to overcome the cost space between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the market would be "really small" for private homes. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released alongside the main method. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher costs or public funds.