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

Experts have actually alerted 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 capability expands.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and analyzes some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Company choices around the degree of hydrogen usage 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 brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen technique supplies more detail on how the federal government will support the development of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

The plan likewise called for 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 minimize reliance on gas.

Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan effect evaluation and the complete variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential use in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and car stock modifications.

Prior to the brand-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 capacity stands at practically zero.

Its versatility means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently suffers from high prices and low performance..

Hydrogen is commonly seen as an important component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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

However, as with the majority of the governments net-zero technique documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

The strategy does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “mindful of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

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

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it might then expand substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

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

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

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

Today we have actually published the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market release the market to cut expenses increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

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

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

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for attaining net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not enough green hydrogen readily available..


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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be tested through the markets response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

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

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

It has actually also 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.

This opposition capped when a recent study resulted in headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out the use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the federal government ought to “live to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary aspect in market advancement”.

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

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

The file does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “further information on our production method and twin track approach by early 2022”.

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses released alongside the primary technique, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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 states:.

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

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

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

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation 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 committee stresses that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to “areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

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

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electrical automobiles, which lots of researchers deem more effective and economical innovation.

The new technique 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 essential for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

The government is more optimistic about using 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 shows.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

” Stronger signals of intent could guide public and private investments into those locations which add most value. The government has not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “within a year”. Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

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

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, recommends potential hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Coverage of the report and government advertising products stressed that the federal governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

However, the beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

The technique also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps..

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals market– provided leading priority.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. " As the strategy admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Commitments made in the new strategy include:. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to pick its concerns carefully. So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, at least in the brief term. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique may also supply some clearness. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen industry? The brand-new hydrogen method confirms that this business design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the main strategy. These agreements are developed to conquer the expense gap between the preferred technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for individual families. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would originate from either greater costs or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business model to encourage personal investment and an income mechanism to provide financing for business design. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of last 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 technique admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has been published, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization model:. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "built on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new offshore wind farms.