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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the method.

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

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

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

The document contains an exploration of how the UK will expand production and produce a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently experiences high prices and low performance..

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

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans concern fruition it might then broaden considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

However, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

The federal government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a pledge to “finalise style components” of such requirements by early 2022.

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 devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.


In the example picked for the consultation, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity known as … Read More.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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

The strategy states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– 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 global warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest 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.).

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

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

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

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 “consider carbon intensity as the main element in market development”.

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

The CCC has actually formerly specified “ideal emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas cost savings”.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs released along with the main strategy, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

This opposition capped when a current research study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

The plan notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025″..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

The federal government is more optimistic about the use 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 below suggests.

The brand-new method is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting 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 balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the current power sector.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading concern.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to select its concerns thoroughly.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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 competition in 2021.

Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:.

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need to utilize it where there are couple of options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. My lovelies, I just 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, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The method likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is constant with the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more effective and affordable innovation. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method may also offer some clarity. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for individual homes. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater bills or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced alongside the main technique. The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to motivate personal investment and an earnings mechanism to supply financing for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". Now that its technique has been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink area) 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 method confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.