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

Professionals have actually cautioned 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 capacity expands.

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

Firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and might fulfill up to a 3rd of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the government.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget impact evaluation and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at practically zero.

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

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently suffers from high prices and low performance..

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

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

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on gas.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

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

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

The file includes 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 aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

Nevertheless, just like most of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an essential part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The new method mainly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has actually committed to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact 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 excluded.

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

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


CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

Quick (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & 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.

This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

Supporting a variety of jobs will offer the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

It has actually also 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 approach for determining these emissions.

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the primary element in market development”.

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

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

Contrast of cost quotes throughout different technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen available..

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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:.

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

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 use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, 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.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers deem more efficient and economical innovation.

” As the method confesses, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows.

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

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, at least in the short term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered top concern.

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

It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. The technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. The new technique is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be crucial for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and offering flexibility to the power system. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. However, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures method might likewise offer some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are created to overcome the expense gap in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely little" for private homes. 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 risks for companies aiming to get in the sector. 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:. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this service model will be settled in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the main method. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the 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, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to motivate personal financial investment and an earnings system to supply funding for the business design.