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

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

Professionals have actually cautioned 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 capability expands.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Company decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Prior to the 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 zero.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, specifying that the government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important element in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

Its flexibility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

In its 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 says it wants the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

As with many of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new industry.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget effect assessment and the full range is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden substantially– making up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The former is essentially zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

In the example chosen for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were left out..

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

This opposition capped when a current study caused headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends on a range of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary strategy, reveals the expected 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% sustainable.).

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide 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 should “live to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

The file does not do that and instead says it will offer “further detail on our production technique and twin track method 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)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Brief (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually severely & & with no sensible guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.


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

It has likewise launched 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 method for determining these emissions.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He states:.

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

The method likewise consists of the alternative 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..

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

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to “locations less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and providing versatility to the power system.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " As the method confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to utilize 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. 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 use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal financial investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Coverage of the report and government advertising products emphasised that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. The federal government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually "left open" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electric vehicles, which many scientists consider as more efficient and cost-efficient innovation. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. Call for proof 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 competitors in 2021. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its priorities thoroughly. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. 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. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might also supply some clearness. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those must be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Now that its method has been published, the government says it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. These agreements are created to conquer the cost gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for companies aiming to get in the sector. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage private investment and an income system to supply funding for business model. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this company model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released alongside the primary method. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for specific homes. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 technique admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.