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

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

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

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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 actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget impact assessment and the complete range is based on the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

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

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

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

However, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans concern fruition it could then expand considerably– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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

As with most of the federal governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in numerous sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Supporting a variety of tasks will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

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

The file does not do that and instead says it will supply “further information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022″.

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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 techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

It has actually also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for calculating these emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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

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 main consider market development”.

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


Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

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

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

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen available..

The new strategy mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released along with the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

The strategy also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

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

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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

However, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

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

” As the strategy confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to select its top priorities thoroughly.

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This follows the federal governments focus on electric cars, which many researchers deem more efficient and cost-effective technology.

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

In the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short term. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Commitments made in the brand-new method include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also provide some clearness. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those should be the focus.". Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost space in between the preferred innovation 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 motivate personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply financing for the organization design. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "built on a comparable property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for individual families. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final 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 market "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released alongside the main technique. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies aiming to enter the sector.