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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

Specialists have actually alerted 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.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

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

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 personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a vital part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high rates and low performance..

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

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, specifying that the federal government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it could then broaden considerably– comprising in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy 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 absolutely no.

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and kept..

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis consisted of in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).


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 really high methane leakage and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

The method mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends on a series of assumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will provide “more information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals 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 excluded.

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new method mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs launched along with the main method, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

” As the technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

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

Commitments made in the new method include:.

The technique likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

In the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided leading priority. Government analysis, included in the method, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest cars. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers view as more cost-efficient and efficient innovation. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. " Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Protection of the report and government promotional materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would supply sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. The federal government is more optimistic about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the government to select its concerns thoroughly. 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 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. It contains strategies for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require 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 competitors in 2021. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. The brand-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 essential for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions 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 supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might also provide some clarity. 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. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to go into the sector. Now that its strategy has been published, the government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. Sharelines from this story. 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 industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the main technique. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater costs or public funds. The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen business design to encourage private investment and an income mechanism to provide financing for business model. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for individual families.