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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page technique and analyzes some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

Company decisions around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Professionals have actually cautioned 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 capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a crucial element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

In its new method, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero strategy, and says it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to begin gradually, with a federal government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the strategy.

The file contains an expedition of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at practically zero.

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

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

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fruition it might then expand considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Its adaptability indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of demands, mentioning that the government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

The plan likewise 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 lower reliance on gas.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Nevertheless, similar to most of the federal governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies must establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

This opposition came to a head when a current study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary strategy, shows the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The method states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

Supporting a range of tasks will give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “additional detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however 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 catch 100% of emissions..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

The brand-new technique mainly avoids using this colour-coding system, but it states the government has committed to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.


Comparison of rate quotes across various technology types at main fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as … Read More.

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

Environmental groups and numerous scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He states:.

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 intensity as the primary consider market advancement”.

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 methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on very high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

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

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This follows the governments focus on electrical automobiles, which numerous researchers consider as more effective and cost-efficient technology.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be limited to “areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering flexibility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

The government is more positive 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 listed below shows.

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

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

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows.

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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "miniscule" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its concerns carefully. Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the federal governments strategy would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered top priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "left open" the door for usages that "do not include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. However, the technique also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electrical heat pumps.. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method might also provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. These agreements are created to overcome the cost gap in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been introduced alongside the primary technique. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage 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 industry "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business model:. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for private homes. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher costs or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for business aiming to enter the sector. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue system to offer funding for business design. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable property to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms.