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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Professionals have warned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

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

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

The document consists of 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 actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

However, just like most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

Its adaptability implies it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high rates and low efficiency..

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 “consider carbon strength as the primary element in market advancement”.

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

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a range of assumptions, which can just be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses released along with the main technique, reveals the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

This opposition came to a head when a recent study caused headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

It has likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for determining these emissions.


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

The brand-new strategy largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

The plan notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made utilizing 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 launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a pledge to “settle design components” of such standards by early 2022.

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “additional information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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 dispute”. He states:.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies should develop both green and blue alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

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

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

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

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, 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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & without any sensible guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electric automobiles, which many researchers see as more efficient and economical technology.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

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

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods cars, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

The strategy also consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

” As the technique confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to utilize it where there are few 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.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for usages that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

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

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to pick its priorities carefully.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. 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 prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Dedications made in the brand-new method include:. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and offering flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique may likewise offer some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has actually been released, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the market would be "very little" for private households. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen technique validates that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the primary technique. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate personal financial investment and an income mechanism to supply funding for business design. These contracts are created to overcome the cost space in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. 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 threats for business aiming to get in the sector.