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

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

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

On the other hand, firm decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Specialists have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capability expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Its versatility means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high prices and low effectiveness..

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans pertain to fruition it might then broaden significantly– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at essentially zero.

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

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

In its new strategy, the UK federal 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 “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a vital part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole industry let loose the market to cut costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

Environmental groups and lots of scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

This opposition capped when a recent research study led to headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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 argument”. He says:.

The federal government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “settle style aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

The brand-new technique largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

The technique specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the main method, reveals the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

It has actually also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for computing these emissions.

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, 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 approaches above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

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

Short (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & without any sensible policies. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The file does refrain from doing that and rather states it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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


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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars and trucks to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

However, the method also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps..

Dedications made in the new strategy consist of:.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “do not include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She adds:.

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

” As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to utilize it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

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 current power sector.

However, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and providing flexibility to the power system. So, my lovelies, I just 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be crucial for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below indicates. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which many scientists deem more efficient and cost-effective innovation. Protection of the report and government advertising products stressed that the federal governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top 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. Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to choose its priorities carefully. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy need in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may also offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those should be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to go into the sector. Now that its strategy has been published, the government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 method confesses, there wont be significant quantities 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. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "constructed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company design to encourage personal investment and an income system to supply financing for business design. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this company model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released together with the main technique. 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 higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the market would be "really little" for specific households.