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

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.

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

Specialists have warned 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 capability expands.

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

As with many of the federal governments net-zero method files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

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

The plan likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on natural gas.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important part in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the method.

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

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

The technique does not increase this target, although it notes that the federal government is “aware of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the 6th carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

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

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Short (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & with no practical policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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


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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity referred to as … Read More.

The document does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “more information on our production technique and twin track approach by early 2022”.

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which analyzes optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for determining these emissions.

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

The new method largely avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has actually committed to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both varieties.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the international warming potential. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

” If we desire to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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 give the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

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

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 stored..

The figure below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a limit of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be 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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market advancement”.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen expenses released along with the main strategy, shows 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% renewable.).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will “likely” be crucial for decarbonising transport– particularly heavy goods lorries, shipping and air travel– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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 current power sector.

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

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

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars and trucks. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which many scientists deem more cost-effective and effective technology.

The method also consists of the choice 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..

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

Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the federal governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

In the real report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends possible hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. " As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we need 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 statement. The federal government is more positive about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling cars and trucks to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. Nevertheless, the beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. Call for proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial 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. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had "exposed" the door for uses that "do not include the most worth for the climate or economy". She adds:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term. " Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading concern. Responding to the report, energy scientists indicated the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to choose its priorities carefully. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be limited to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. Commitments made in the brand-new technique include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a last decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings method may also supply some clearness. Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen market? 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new innovations could play in achieving the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for private homes. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high risks for business aiming to get in the sector. The new hydrogen technique verifies that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released along with the main strategy. The 10-point strategy included a promise to establish a hydrogen business model to encourage personal financial investment and an earnings system to provide financing for the business design. Now that its technique has actually been released, the federal government states it will collect proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the service model:. According to the federal governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar facility to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These contracts are created to overcome the cost space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Sharelines from this story.