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 method and takes a look at a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

Specialists have warned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

Its versatility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high prices and low effectiveness..

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget plan effect assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

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

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the governments strategies pertain to fulfillment it could then expand significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

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

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

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

It has actually likewise 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 method for computing these emissions.

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

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


The CCC has alerted that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest 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, informs 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:.

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

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

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

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”.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

The plan notes that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched together with the primary method, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact 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 omitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, recommends possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the current power sector. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Call for proof 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. However, the method also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps.. 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 "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Coverage of the report and government marketing products emphasised that the governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to choose its priorities carefully. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and offering versatility to the power system. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. " As the technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers deem more effective and affordable innovation. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. 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. Present energy need in the UK for space and hot 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. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states 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 go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique might also provide some clearness. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The new hydrogen technique confirms that this company model will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary technique. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has actually been published, the government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption 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 industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. These agreements are created to overcome the cost gap between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to encourage personal investment and an earnings system to offer financing for the company model. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the market would be "really small" for specific homes.