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

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

On the other hand, company decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page technique and examines a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Specialists have cautioned 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 capacity expands.

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently struggles with high rates and low performance..

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies concern fruition it might then broaden significantly– using up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to decrease dependence on gas.

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

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

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

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

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have actually cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon budget impact assessment and the full variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

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

Prior to the brand-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 virtually zero.

Today we have actually published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan 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.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released along with the primary technique, shows the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

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

Quick (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

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

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

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

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

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 says:.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.


The figure listed below from the assessment, 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 omitted.

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

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

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

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

It has actually 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 method for determining these emissions.

Environmental groups and lots of researchers are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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 intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study led to headings specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

The document does not do that and instead says it will supply “further detail on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

Coverage of the report and federal government marketing products emphasised that the governments strategy would offer sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year.

Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

The starting point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has actually not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had actually “left open” the door for uses that “do not add the most value for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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

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 clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

It consists of plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

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

” As the strategy admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we need to utilize 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.

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest automobiles. This is constant with the governments focus on electrical cars, which numerous researchers deem more effective and economical technology.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to choose its concerns carefully.

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

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

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

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy products vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

However, in the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The method likewise includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial 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. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current 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 alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures strategy may likewise provide some clarity. Finally, in order to produce 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 decision in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "built on a comparable facility to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate private investment and an earnings system to supply funding for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to enter the sector. These agreements are developed to conquer the expense gap in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for private families. Now that its method has actually been published, the federal government states it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. 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 originate from either greater bills or public funds. The new hydrogen strategy confirms that this business model will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released alongside the primary method. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in need, and the role that new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production needed to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.".