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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the degree 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 consultation for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and could consume to a 3rd of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the government.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon budget plan impact evaluation and the full range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Nevertheless, as with most of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

Prior to the brand-new technique, 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. Presently, this capability stands at virtually no.

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its possible usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it might then broaden considerably– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

In its brand-new strategy, 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.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually 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 vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock modifications.

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

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

The strategy also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on natural gas.

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

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

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

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

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

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

The file consists of 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions much faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

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

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs released along with the primary strategy, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

Supporting a variety of projects will provide the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as the global warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

It has actually also launched 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 computing these emissions.


This opposition came to a head when a recent study led to headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

The file does not do that and instead says it will supply “additional information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

The brand-new strategy mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

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

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are total.”.

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

In the example picked for the consultation, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were excluded..

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 “consider carbon intensity as the main aspect in market development”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the brief term.

The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those locations which add most worth. The government has actually not plainly set out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– given top priority.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for usages that “dont include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

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

Government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

” As the technique confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] 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.

The starting point for the range– 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.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which many researchers consider as more cost-efficient and effective innovation.

Commitments made in the brand-new strategy include:.

The method also consists of the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heat pumps..

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to select its concerns thoroughly.

My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use ought to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

The new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy products cars, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for 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 competition in 2021.

However, in the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique might also offer some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These agreements are created to overcome the expense gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Sharelines from this story. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 market "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either higher costs or public funds. " 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 function that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". 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 dangers for companies intending to enter the sector. According to the federal governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a comparable property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization model to motivate private financial investment and a profits system to supply funding for business design. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this company design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the main technique. Now that its strategy has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for specific homes.