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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen technique provides more detail on how the government will support the advancement 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 could utilize up to a 3rd of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at essentially absolutely no.

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

The plan 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 decrease dependence on gas.

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans pertain to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have alerted that the UK risks being left behind. Other European nations have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

As with many of the governments net-zero strategy files so far, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, specifying that the government needs to “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

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

Its versatility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high costs and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

In its brand-new strategy, the UK federal 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 “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon budget impact evaluation and the complete variety is based on the whole range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will offer “additional detail on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable 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.).

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

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

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

The plan notes that, sometimes, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

Brief (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The strategy specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can only be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

Environmental groups and many researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

It has actually also released 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 methodology for computing these emissions.


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

The figure below from the assessment, 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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 atmosphere, a quantity known as the worldwide warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen offered..

The chart below, from a file laying out hydrogen costs launched together with the primary technique, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The CCC has cautioned that policies must develop both green and blue options, “rather than simply 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)– stated that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary factor in market development”.

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

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

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to choose its top priorities thoroughly.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those locations which include most value. The government has not plainly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

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

Nevertheless, the starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals market– provided leading priority.

In the real report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector. It includes prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars, which lots of researchers view as more cost-effective and efficient innovation. " As the technique admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to use 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 statement. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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 competition in 2021. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. 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, because not all use cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Federal government analysis, included in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need 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. However, the strategy likewise consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to complete with electrical heat pumps.. Protection of the report and government marketing products stressed that the governments strategy would supply adequate hydrogen to replace natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Dedications made in the brand-new strategy include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government anticipates << 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-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also supply some clarity. Lastly, 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 decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a similar facility to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen service model to encourage personal investment and a profits system to supply funding for the business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business intending to go into the sector. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. The brand-new hydrogen strategy confirms that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released alongside the main strategy. These agreements are developed to overcome the cost space in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake 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 wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for individual families. Sharelines from this story. Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:.