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

Firm choices around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Professionals have actually warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen 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 disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Its flexibility implies it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high rates and low effectiveness..

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on natural gas.

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a vital part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

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

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

The level of hydrogen use in 2050 imagined by the method is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its latest guidance, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

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

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan 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 virtually no.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the complete range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

In its brand-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 states it desires the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Nevertheless, as with most of the governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the primary technique, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The federal government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle style elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

This opposition came to a head when a recent research study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Supporting a range of projects will offer 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 terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

Environmental groups and lots of researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that 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 deliberations are complete.”.

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

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

Comparison of cost quotes across different technology types at central 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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

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

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

The former is essentially zero-carbon, but 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 brand-new strategy largely avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has actually dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the federal government must “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which numerous researchers consider as more efficient and cost-effective innovation.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

The new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be crucial for decarbonising transport– especially heavy goods cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial devices by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might 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 short term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– given top concern.

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

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its priorities carefully.

” As the technique confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to use 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 statement.

The strategy also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those areas which include most worth. The government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

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 use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all use cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Commitments made in the brand-new method include:. Coverage of the report and federal government advertising products stressed that the federal governments plan would supply sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year. The federal government is more optimistic about making use of 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. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy need in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. 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 objective to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager 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 alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might likewise supply some clarity. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? These contracts are developed to overcome the expense gap in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "very small" for individual families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to encourage private financial investment and an earnings system to supply funding for business design. Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "built on a similar property 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 strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen method confirms that this business design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced along with the main strategy. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final 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 method confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.