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

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

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

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

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

Experts 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 require a hydrogen method?

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

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on gas.

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

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

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

Its flexibility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high costs and low performance..

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

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

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

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 plan, and states it wants the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans concern fulfillment it could then expand significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Brief (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

At the heart of many 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 amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs launched together with the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

It has likewise released 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 method for calculating these emissions.

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

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


The brand-new strategy largely prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

The document does not do that and instead states it will supply “further detail on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022″.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

There was significant 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 leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary aspect in market development”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government need to “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

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

Supporting a range of jobs will give the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

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

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

In the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which numerous scientists deem more economical and effective innovation. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. Dedications made in the new strategy consist of:. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. However, the strategy likewise includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heatpump.. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Require 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". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- given top priority. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. The government is more optimistic about using 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 suggests. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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 third of the size of the current power sector. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.". Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to select its concerns thoroughly. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Nevertheless, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might likewise offer some clarity. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? According to the governments news release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. These agreements are created to overcome the cost space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The new hydrogen method confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the main method. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate private financial investment and an earnings system to offer financing for the service design. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher costs or public funds. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for private families. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 technique admits, there wont be substantial 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. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to get in the sector.