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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

However, just like most of the federal governments net-zero technique files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

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

Its versatility means it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently struggles with high rates and low efficiency..

Today we have actually published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire industry unleash the market to cut expenses ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

The document consists of an expedition of how the UK will broaden production and create a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been wanting to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an essential part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

Hydrogen development for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the method.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main variety is based upon illustrative net-zero constant scenarios in the 6th carbon budget effect assessment and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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 “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen method”. This call has been echoed by some industry groups.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in lots of sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

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

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

The strategy also required 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 reduce reliance on gas.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not adequate green hydrogen available..

The document does refrain from doing that and instead states it will supply “more detail on our production method and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

” If we want to show, trial, start to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait till the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

Brief (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & without any practical regulations. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.


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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government need to “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

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

Many researchers and ecological groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

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

In the example picked for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were left out..

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 “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

The chart below, from a file outlining hydrogen costs released along with the primary method, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The strategy states that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can only be evaluated through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

It has likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for calculating these emissions.

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term.

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

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

This is 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.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use need to be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Responding 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 thoroughly.

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

” Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.”.

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

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes. " As the technique admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The new method is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "left open" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Protection of the report and federal government advertising products emphasised that the governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The federal 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. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which many researchers consider as more efficient and cost-effective innovation. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The strategy likewise includes the option of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps.. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy demand in the UK for space and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in market] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings method may likewise supply some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake 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 confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service design:. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to establish a hydrogen business design to motivate personal investment and a revenue mechanism to supply financing for business design. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this company design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released alongside the main strategy. These agreements are designed to conquer the expense gap between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific homes. According to the federal governments news release, its favored design is "built on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms.