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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might satisfy up to a 3rd of the nations energy requirements by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

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

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

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its most current advice, however covers a similar range to other studies.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

Its flexibility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high prices and low performance..

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

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

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– explaining that it counted on really high methane leak and a short-term step of global warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The figure listed 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 approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

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

The file does not do that and rather states it will offer “additional detail on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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 argument”. He says:.

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

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

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

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

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

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

The brand-new technique largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.


CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study led to headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government must “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The plan keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main technique, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electrical cars, which numerous scientists deem more cost-efficient and efficient innovation.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals market– given top priority.

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She adds:. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to select its top priorities thoroughly. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Government analysis, included in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. The government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests. " As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Call for 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". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. The strategy also includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items cars, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Dedications made in the brand-new method include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method might likewise supply some clearness. " I would suggest to choose 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 take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for individual homes. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue system to supply funding for the organization design. Now that its method has been released, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "built on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to get in the sector. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake 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 industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released along with the primary strategy. Sharelines from this story.