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

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

Experts have actually alerted 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.

Company decisions around the extent 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.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a crucial component in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Nevertheless, just like most of the 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 new industry.

Prior to the brand-new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at virtually zero.

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

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in lots of sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched earlier this year.

Today we have released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole market release the market to cut costs ramp up 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 consumption in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon budget impact assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Its versatility indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently suffers from high prices and low performance..

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

However, as the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then broaden substantially– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on natural gas.

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

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

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The former is essentially 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 capture 100% of emissions..

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched alongside the primary strategy, shows the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

The CCC has warned that policies should establish both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as … Read More.

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

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

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect 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 excluded.

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

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

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headlines mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts 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 simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

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

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


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

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

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a variety of assumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation 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)– stated that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

The government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a promise to “settle style components” of such standards by early 2022.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert 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 dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

” As the method confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

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

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electrical vehicles, which many scientists consider as more affordable and efficient technology.

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 third of the size of the existing power sector.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer private and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

The technique likewise consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends potential hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “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 should be limited to “areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and providing versatility to the power system.

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

Coverage of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the governments plan would provide adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

However, in the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. It contains plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government says it will analyze blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy may also provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to go into the sector. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company design to encourage personal financial investment and a profits system to supply financing for the organization design. These agreements are developed to get rid of the cost space in between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private homes. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been introduced along with the primary method. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, 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. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production essential to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its strategy has been published, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:.