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

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page method and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

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

Its adaptability implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently struggles with high prices and low performance..

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

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capacity in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually absolutely no.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

In its brand-new technique, 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 desires the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget impact evaluation and the full range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans concern fruition it might then expand substantially– making up between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

However, as with many of the governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have cautioned that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched together with the primary strategy, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

There was significant 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 capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

It has also released 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 approach for computing these emissions.

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and then present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government ought to “live to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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 main element in market development”.

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity understood as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies must develop both green and blue choices, “rather than just whichever is least-cost”.

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

The document does not do that and instead says it will offer “additional detail on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The strategy mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..


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

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

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.

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the federal governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

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

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Nevertheless, the method likewise consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heatpump.. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She includes:. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. The government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous scientists consider as more cost-efficient and efficient technology. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top concern. Dedications made in the new technique include:. However, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. " Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to select its priorities thoroughly. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy goods vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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 competition in 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space 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. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might also provide some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for individual households. Sharelines from this story. According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. Now that its technique has been published, the government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. These agreements are designed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced together with the primary strategy. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to motivate private investment and a revenue system to provide funding for the organization design.