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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, firm choices around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen development 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.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

In its brand-new technique, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a key part of its net-zero strategy, and says it wants the country to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a vital element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

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

However, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies pertain to fruition it might then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the government must “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

However, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

Its adaptability means it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at essentially no.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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 methodology for calculating these emissions.

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 debate”. He says:.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.


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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based on this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a limit 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 omitted.

The CCC has actually formerly mentioned that the government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

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

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

Quick (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really severely & & with no practical guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– stated that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main element in market development”.

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both blue and green choices, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

The previous is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from gas facilities and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not record 100% of emissions..

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary method, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

The document does not do that and rather says it will offer “further information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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

The technique states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can only be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– explaining that it depended on really high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

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

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers deem more effective and cost-effective technology.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests potential 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 need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method.

The new method is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items cars, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

So, 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, because not all use cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Require evidence 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”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

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

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those areas which include most value. The government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will gain from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually 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 used to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading priority. However, the technique likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heat pumps.. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its concerns thoroughly. The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The federal government is more optimistic about using 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 shows. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing energy demand in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy may also supply some clearness. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen method validates that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been launched together with the primary technique. These agreements are created to overcome the expense space between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate private financial investment and a revenue system to supply financing for business model. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher expenses or public funds. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for individual homes. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to meet our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable property to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to get in the sector. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage 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 market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.