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

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

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

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

Professionals have actually warned 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 capability expands.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “familiar with a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Its adaptability implies it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently suffers from high costs and low efficiency..

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

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

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically no.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the method.

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

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the government must “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

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

However, as the chart below programs, if the governments strategies concern fruition it could then expand significantly– comprising between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a vital part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & with no practical regulations. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses launched together with the main strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both blue and green options, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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


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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, shows the effect 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.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

The file does not do that and instead states it will supply “additional information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

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:.

Comparison of cost estimates across different technology types at main fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

The brand-new method largely prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

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

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

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

The CCC has actually 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”.

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 intensity as the primary factor in market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as … Read More.

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

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

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

” As the technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to use it where there are couple of options 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.

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

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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.

Commitments made in the new method include:.

The federal government is more positive about the usage 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 listed below suggests.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for uses that “dont add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided top priority.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which numerous researchers consider as more effective and cost-effective innovation.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might also offer some clarity. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage personal financial investment and an income mechanism to supply funding for business design. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". According to the governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense space between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific families. 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 market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this company design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced alongside the primary strategy. Sharelines from this story.