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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies concern fulfillment it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

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

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

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market release 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.

The file consists of 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

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

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

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

The plan also called for 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 reduce reliance on gas.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the strategy.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

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:.

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main element in market development”.


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

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the main strategy, reveals the expected decreasing cost 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.).

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

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

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

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

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

The new method mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

The CCC has previously defined “appropriate emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

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

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

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

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 environment, an amount known as … Read More.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen readily available..

The plan notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025″..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

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

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

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK houses.

Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “exposed” the door for usages that “dont include the most value for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

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

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

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

This is 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 third of the size of the existing power sector.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to “areas less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

” As the technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The brand-new method is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

However, in the actual report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Protection of the report and federal government marketing materials stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers see as more affordable and effective technology. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to choose its concerns carefully. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading priority. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may likewise offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those need to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater costs or public funds. The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen business design to encourage private financial investment and a profits system to provide funding for business model. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the main strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final 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 strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to get in the sector. 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 role that brand-new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero commitments.". Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific households. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost gap in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space.