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

Specialists have actually cautioned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK must 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 takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

Company decisions around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

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

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan impact assessment and the full range is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock modifications.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective usage in lots of sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies launched earlier this year.

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically no.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a potential pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then broaden significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of facilities and abilities in the UK.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left. 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 produce a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

In its brand-new technique, the UK federal 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.

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

However, similar to the majority of the federal governments net-zero method documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has actually been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established industry.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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

It has also released 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 methodology for determining these emissions.

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

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

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 strength as the primary factor in market development”.

The CCC has alerted that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

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

Short (ideally) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly terribly & & without any practical policies. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released together with the primary strategy, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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 argument”. He states:.

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government ought to “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, shows 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 excluded.

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

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


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

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

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

Dedications made in the brand-new method include:.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

Coverage of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the governments plan would provide sufficient hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to “locations less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to choose its concerns thoroughly.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for uses that “dont add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof 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 competition in 2021.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might guide public and private financial investments into those areas which add most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.”.

” As the technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

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

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The government is more positive about the use of 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 listed below shows. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which many scientists see as more efficient and cost-efficient innovation. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top priority. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. The technique also consists of the option of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items cars, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for area and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also offer some clarity. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this service model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been launched along with the primary method. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 strategy admits, there will not be significant quantities 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. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for individual homes. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to motivate private financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for business model. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred design is "developed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new offshore wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to go into the sector. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are created to conquer the expense gap between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. " This will provide 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 technologies could play in achieving the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Now that its technique has actually been published, the federal government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:.