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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen strategy 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.

Experts have alerted that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and examines some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

However, as with many of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and automobile stock changes.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “aware of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high prices and low efficiency..

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to begin slowly, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the method.

In its brand-new method, the UK federal 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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on gas.

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

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

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

Today we have actually released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start an entire industry unleash 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 need (pink location) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon budget plan effect assessment and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then expand significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He states:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & with no sensible guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.


The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched along with the primary technique, shows the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

It has actually also released 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 methodology for determining these emissions.

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit 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 left out.

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

The government has actually released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a pledge to “finalise style components” of such requirements 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)– stated that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government must “be alive to the danger of gas market lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new strategy mainly prevents utilizing 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.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

The new method is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the actual report, the government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top concern. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars and trucks. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous scientists view as more affordable and effective innovation. Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to choose its concerns carefully. The technique likewise consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps.. 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. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Protection of the report and government marketing products stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are equally 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. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also offer some clarity. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are designed to conquer the cost space in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The new hydrogen technique validates that this company design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main technique. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely little" for private households. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage 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 wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Sharelines from this story. Now that its technique has been released, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater bills or public funds. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new technologies could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for business aiming to go into the sector. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to motivate private investment and an earnings mechanism to supply funding for business design.