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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies pertain to fulfillment it might then expand considerably– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

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

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

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on gas.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

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

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

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

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

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable buzz, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and car stock modifications.

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

Its versatility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

The file includes an expedition 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.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget effect evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such requirements by early 2022.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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.

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

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

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “additional information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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 the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

The figure below from the consultation, based upon 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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

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 argument”. He says:.

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 “think about carbon intensity as the primary element in market development”.

In the example chosen for the assessment, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

Comparison of cost estimates throughout various innovation types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen expenses released together with the primary strategy, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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


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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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

The technique also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and personal financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.”.

Protection of the report and federal government marketing products emphasised that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to choose its top priorities carefully. The new strategy is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists see as more cost-effective and efficient innovation. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to "locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and providing versatility to the power system. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Commitments made in the new strategy include:. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. However, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the short term. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top priority. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also supply some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to provide financing for the company design. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific households. Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. These contracts are developed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake 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 strategy admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the primary technique. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story.