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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

On the other hand, company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

However, as with most of the federal governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, specifying that the government should “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually zero.

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

Today we have actually published 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 private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of considerable hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the technique is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its most recent recommendations, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold 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 omitted.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government ought to “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”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

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


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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and saved..

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on very high methane leakage and a short-term measure of global warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for determining these emissions.

The brand-new method largely prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched together with the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

In the example picked for the consultation, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were left out..

” If we wish to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present making 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.”.

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated 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 strength as the main consider market advancement”.

Short (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

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

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

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

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

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading priority.

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 add the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This follows the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of scientists consider as more affordable and efficient innovation.

Require proof 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 anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

However, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

This remains 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 current power sector.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:.

Coverage of the report and government marketing materials stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to pick its concerns carefully.

In the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may likewise offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be considerable 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. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to go into the sector. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal investment and a profits mechanism to supply funding for the organization design. These contracts are created to conquer the cost gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. The brand-new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the main technique. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater bills or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms.