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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

Its versatility means it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high rates and low effectiveness..

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

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

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand considerably– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, but covers a comparable range to other studies.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “aware of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

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

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we wish to demonstrate, 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 till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses launched together with the primary method, reveals the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

It has likewise released 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 calculating these emissions.

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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 main consider market development”.


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

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

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

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

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

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

The government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “settle style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

The brand-new technique mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold 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 excluded.

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, but the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leakages from gas facilities and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Short (ideally) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

In the example selected for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

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

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

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

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

Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had “left open” the door for uses that “dont include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more economical and effective innovation.

Commitments made in the new technique consist of:.

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

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " As the method admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we need to use 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 statement. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. However, the technique likewise consists of the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heatpump.. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures technique might likewise provide some clarity. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal 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. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The new hydrogen technique confirms that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the main method. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher costs or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to go into the sector. Now that its method has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen service design to motivate private financial investment and an earnings system to provide financing for business model. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for individual households. These agreements are created to conquer the expense gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "built on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage 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 industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.".