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

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

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

On the other hand, firm 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 consultation for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

The file includes an exploration 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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand substantially– comprising in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of needs, stating that the federal government needs to “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the strategy.

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

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

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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


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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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

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

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 chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released alongside the primary strategy, shows the expected decreasing expense 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% renewable.).

The CCC has actually warned that policies must establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

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

The government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

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

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

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

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

Comparison of price estimates across different technology types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

The new method largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it says the government has actually devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The figure listed 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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

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

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

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 strength as the main aspect in market development”.

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

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

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial 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.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

Coverage of the report and federal government marketing materials emphasised that the governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Dedications made in the new technique consist of:.

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more efficient and cost-efficient innovation.

The strategy also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. " As the technique confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to utilize it where there are few options 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. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for area 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. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique may also offer some clearness. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the market would be "very small" for specific homes. Sharelines from this story. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". The brand-new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched together with the primary method. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake 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 technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and a profits system to supply funding for business design. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a similar premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms.