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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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 delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might consume to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the government needs to “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

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

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the method.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a vital component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

However, just like most of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually zero.

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high costs and low effectiveness..

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

The document contains 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 been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies pertain to fruition it could then expand significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the main method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government must “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

The strategy notes that, in some cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

There was considerable 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 procedure of global warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He states:.

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

Short (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & without any reasonable regulations. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the primary factor in market development”.


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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed 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 called … Read More.

The former is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

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

The new technique mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

However, the method also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heatpump..

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests potential 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.

Coverage of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the governments focus on electric vehicles, which numerous researchers view as more economical and efficient technology.

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

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method admits, 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. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows. Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to choose its top priorities carefully. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. However, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy consist of:. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.". Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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 organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- given top concern. The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures strategy might likewise offer some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 method admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. These agreements are created to overcome the expense gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its method has been published, the government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production needed to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate private investment and a revenue mechanism to provide funding for business model. The new hydrogen method validates that this company design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary method. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "built on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the market would be "really little" for private households.