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

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.

Meanwhile, firm choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Its adaptability indicates it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high rates and low performance..

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget impact evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an essential element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on natural gas.

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

A recent 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 “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it could then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and vehicle stock modifications.

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

However, as with many of the governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, but covers a comparable variety to other studies.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however 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 document does not do that and instead says it will provide “more information on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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 debate”. He says:.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows 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 left out.

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

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

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

The CCC has actually formerly specified “suitable emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

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

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary method, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government must “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

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

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

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called … Read More.

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen available..

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

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


Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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.

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric vehicles, which many researchers deem more effective and affordable innovation.

Responding to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the government to choose its concerns carefully.

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

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

In the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given top concern. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current 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 industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. So, my lovelies, I simply 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 be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. The technique also includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique may also offer some clarity. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen demand (pink location) 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "very little" for individual households. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen business design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply financing for business design. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this service design will be settled 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 introduced along with the main technique. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. These contracts are created to get rid of the expense gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production necessary to meet our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector.