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

Professionals have 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 capability expands.

Firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could use up to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

The UKs brand-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 article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Prior to the brand-new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at practically no.

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

As the chart below shows, if the governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a federal government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the technique.

The plan likewise 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 minimize reliance on gas.

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

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

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

However, just like the majority of the governments net-zero technique documents up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this recently established market.

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it presently struggles with high prices and low effectiveness..

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budget plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, mentioning that the federal 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.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

There were also over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in numerous sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques released previously this year.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Business such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have actually cautioned that the UK dangers being left. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen argument”. He says:.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to 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 worldwide warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

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

Comparison of price estimates throughout various technology types at main fuel costs commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

The government has released a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

Quick (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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 consider market advancement”.

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

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

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

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government need to “live to the danger of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming potential that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

The CCC has alerted that policies need to establish both green and blue alternatives, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

It has actually likewise 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 method for determining these emissions.

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 called … Read More.

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs launched alongside the main strategy, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).


For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

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

The brand-new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will include the production of both ranges.

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

Require evidence 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.

” As the method admits, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we require to utilize it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor 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 climate or economy”. She includes:.

The strategy likewise consists of the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– especially heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests prospective hydrogen need of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered leading concern.

This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the existing power sector.

The government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to “locations less matched to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have argued that these hold true where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK houses.

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell guest automobiles. This is consistent with the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which numerous scientists consider as more cost-effective and effective innovation.

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its top priorities carefully.

Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

Protection of the report and government promotional products stressed that the governments strategy would provide sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

In the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 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 governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "constructed on a similar property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". The brand-new hydrogen technique validates that this service design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released along with the main method. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate change at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for individual families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. These contracts are developed to overcome the expense space in between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. 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 money would come from either higher costs or public funds. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point plan consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and a profits system to supply financing for the company model. Now that its strategy has been released, the federal government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:.