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

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

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

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

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

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 country to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as an important part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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 must “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has actually been echoed by some market groups.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans pertain to fulfillment it might then expand significantly– using up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and vehicle stock modifications.

Its flexibility implies it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently experiences high rates and low efficiency..

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main factor in market advancement”.

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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

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

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

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

The CCC has warned that policies should establish both green and blue options, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

” If we desire to show, trial, start to commercialise and then present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

The file does refrain from doing that and rather states it will offer “more information on our production method and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

The strategy specifies that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government need to “live to the risk of gas market lobbying causing it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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 debate”. He says:.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched together with the main technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really badly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

It has 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 computing these emissions.

Contrast of rate quotes throughout various innovation types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.


The federal government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise design elements” of such standards by early 2022.

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

Protection of the report and government advertising materials stressed that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

” As the method confesses, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to utilize it where there are few 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 consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heatpump..

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

The new strategy 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 necessary for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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)".. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "exposed" the door for uses that "dont include the most value for the environment or economy". She adds:. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. The federal government is more positive about making use of 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 listed below shows. The beginning point for the variety-- 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. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term. " Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will take advantage of the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the federal government to select its priorities carefully. Commitments made in the new method consist of:. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone 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 succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof 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. The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be limited to "areas less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and supplying flexibility to the power system. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest automobiles. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which lots of scientists deem more efficient and cost-efficient technology. It consists of strategies for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently offered ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures method may likewise supply some clarity. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for business intending to get in the sector. Now that its technique has been released, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable facility to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. The brand-new hydrogen strategy confirms that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the primary method. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to motivate private investment and an earnings system to supply financing for the organization model. 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 greater bills or public funds. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". 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 strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are developed to overcome the cost space between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "very little" for private families.