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 some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

On the other hand, firm choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete range is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Its adaptability indicates it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its most recent guidance, but covers a comparable range to other research studies.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to start slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the method.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “familiar with a possible pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

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

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

Today we have actually released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market release the marketplace to cut costs increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an important component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

As the chart below shows, 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 require a major expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Nevertheless, as with the majority of the federal governments net-zero strategy documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The figure 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 approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

In the example chosen for the consultation, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were omitted..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “more detail on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

Comparison of price quotes across various technology types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released together with the main strategy, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

The CCC has actually warned that policies should establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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 method. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

This opposition capped when a recent study caused headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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


The brand-new technique mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government must “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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 argument”. He says:.

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 strength as the primary element in market development”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

The new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. The method also consists of the choice 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.. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which many researchers consider as more cost-efficient and effective technology. Protection of the report and government promotional materials stressed that the governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to utilize it where there are couple of alternatives 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. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and providing flexibility to the power system. Dedications made in the new method include:. " Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "dont add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to select its concerns carefully. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered top priority. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may also offer some clearness. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal 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. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? These agreements are designed to conquer the cost space in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to enter the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the technique admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific homes. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production required to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization design will be settled in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the primary method. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to encourage personal financial investment and an earnings mechanism to provide funding for business model. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new offshore wind farms.