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

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

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

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

Professionals 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.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

Its versatility indicates it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high costs and low performance..

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

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

The file consists of an exploration of how the UK will broaden production and create a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a vital part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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 transport decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed 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 currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the technique is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest guidance, however covers a comparable variety to other studies.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “conscious of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

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

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

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 “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

As with most of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Supporting a range of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

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

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

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


The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, shows the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

” If we desire to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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 aspect in market development”.

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can only be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

The previous is basically 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..

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government need to “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals 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.

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

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

Brief (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & with no practical policies. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

The brand-new method mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has committed to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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

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

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which include most value. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to contend with electrical heatpump..

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation 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.

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its top priorities thoroughly.

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, 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 CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had “left open” the door for uses that “dont include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require 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. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and offering flexibility to the power system. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest vehicles. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more cost-effective and efficient technology. The new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy products cars, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal 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. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures method might likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched along with the main strategy. Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are developed to overcome the cost space in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "built on a similar property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection 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 cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business intending to get in the sector. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to motivate personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to provide funding for the organization design. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for private households. Now that its technique has been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:.