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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could utilize up to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the government.

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

Its flexibility means it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies come to fulfillment it could then broaden considerably– using up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually alerted that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have actually promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of demands, mentioning that the federal government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

The file consists of an expedition of how the UK will expand production and develop a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

Nevertheless, similar to many of the federal governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “knowledgeable about a possible pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a vital element in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Contrast of rate quotes throughout different innovation types at central fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it depended on extremely high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as … Read More.

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

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

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 says:.

The document does not do that and rather says it will provide “more information on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

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

The strategy keeps in mind that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

It has also launched 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 method for calculating these emissions.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government ought to “be alive to the threat of gas market lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to develop both green and blue options, “instead of 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)– said that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the primary element in market development”.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated declining cost 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.).

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

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 various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

” 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 until the supply side considerations are total.”.

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

The figure below from the consultation, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

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


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

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

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which numerous scientists deem more affordable and efficient technology. However, the starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests 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. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the technique had "exposed" the door for usages that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy products cars, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. 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 use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests. " As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require 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. Coverage of the report and federal government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. Nevertheless, the technique also includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electrical heat pumps.. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. " Stronger signals of intent might guide public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The government has not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market" and offering flexibility to the power system. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof 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. Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its concerns carefully. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. This remains 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. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Finally, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method may also provide some clearness. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Now that its method has been released, the federal government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. Much of the resulting press coverage 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. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final 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 will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to go into the sector. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer funding for business model. These contracts are created to get rid of the cost gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. The brand-new hydrogen strategy validates that this company design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced along with the primary technique. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and environment change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the industry would be "very small" for individual families. Sharelines from this story.