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

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

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

Company decisions 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.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the government should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is somewhat greater than set out by the CCC in its newest advice, however covers a comparable range to other research studies.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

Today we have published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole industry unleash the marketplace to cut expenses ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

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

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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 is commonly viewed as an essential part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on gas.

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

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

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

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the best ways of decarbonisation.

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

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then expand significantly– making up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The brand-new method mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows 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 left out.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released along with the primary method, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Many scientists and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

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

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

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

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

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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 “think about carbon strength as the main element in market advancement”.

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

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

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

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful 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 insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

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

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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 blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He says:.

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


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

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

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

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows.

The strategy also consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

The government is more optimistic about making use 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 below suggests.

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

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electrical vehicles, which many scientists see as more cost-effective and effective innovation.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “overall 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 reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top priority. It contains plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " As the technique admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. The starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to choose its priorities carefully. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already available ... those must be the focus.". In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says 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. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also provide some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? " 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 function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". These contracts are created to overcome the cost gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to get in the sector. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government says it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate private financial investment and an income mechanism to supply funding for business model. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for specific homes. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the primary technique. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "built on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.