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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could utilize up to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the government.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page technique and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Firm choices around the level 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.

The UKs brand-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 essentially non-existent.

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.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have cautioned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget plan effect assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, stating that the federal government needs to “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically zero.

Its flexibility implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high costs and low effectiveness..

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

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

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

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on gas.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important component in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

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

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

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 intensity as the main element in market development”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government ought to “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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 dispute”. He says:.

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

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

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

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term measure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.


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

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the effect of setting a limit 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 excluded.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released along with the main method, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The CCC has actually previously defined “ideal emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The brand-new strategy mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen available..

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

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

This opposition capped when a recent study led to headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

Nevertheless, the strategy also includes the option of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to compete with electric heatpump..

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

” As the strategy admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we need to use it where there are few options 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.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has not plainly set out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

Require proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “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 technique include:.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and providing versatility to the power system.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electric automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more efficient and economical technology.

The federal government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below indicates.

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

My lovelies, I simply 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Protection of the report and federal government advertising products stressed that the governments plan would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the government to select its priorities thoroughly. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures strategy may also supply some clearness. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already offered ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? According to the governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last 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 method admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, 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 greater expenses or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to motivate private investment and a profits mechanism to provide financing for business design. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are developed to conquer the cost gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this company model will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced alongside the primary technique. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific households. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to enter the sector.