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

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

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

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

Professionals have cautioned 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.

Firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen usage 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 require a hydrogen strategy?

As the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it might then expand considerably– making up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

However, similar to most of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this recently established industry.

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

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in many sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

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

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

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

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

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

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically no.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

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

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, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He says:.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says enabling 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 available..

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies should establish both green and blue alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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 danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as … Read More.

Supporting a variety of projects will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

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 “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will provide “further information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022″.

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


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

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

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

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its top priorities carefully.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [] we require to use it where there are couple of options and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas," Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. Protection of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. The technique also consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps.. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy include:. " Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments focus on electric cars, which numerous researchers view as more cost-efficient and effective innovation. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered top priority. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competition in 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also offer some clearness. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These contracts are designed to conquer the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen need (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 strategy admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater costs or public funds. Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen company design to motivate personal investment and a revenue mechanism to supply funding for the organization model. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to go into the sector. Sharelines from this story. The brand-new hydrogen technique validates 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 been released alongside the primary method. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for individual households.