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

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could meet up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

Professionals have 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 capacity expands.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen strategy?

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

However, as with many of the federal governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

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

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 imagined by the strategy is rather higher than set out by the CCC in its newest advice, however covers a similar variety to other studies.

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

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on natural gas.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock changes.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It also features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “familiar with a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

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

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as a crucial component in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

Its adaptability suggests it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently suffers from high costs and low effectiveness..

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs launched together with the primary technique, shows the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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 “consider carbon strength as the main consider market advancement”.

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

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

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

Quick (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Basically, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really severely & & with no reasonable policies. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

Comparison of price estimates throughout different technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

The strategy notes that, in some cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025″..

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

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the government need to “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

The federal government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a pledge to “finalise design components” of such requirements by early 2022.


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

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

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “more information on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

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

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

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

The new method is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

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

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

” As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need 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.

Nevertheless, the strategy also includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electrical heatpump..

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

The federal government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below shows.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

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

Commitments made in the new method consist of:.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Coverage of the report and government marketing materials emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which lots of scientists view as more effective and affordable innovation.

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

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, since not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to choose its priorities thoroughly.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal financial investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has actually not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading concern.

In the actual report, the government stated that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to "areas less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method might also provide some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? The new hydrogen technique confirms that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the primary method. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to enter the sector. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Sharelines from this story. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for specific households. According to the governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal investment and a profits system to offer funding for business design. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap.