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

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

Firm choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Experts have alerted that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK should prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capability expands.

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

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might consume to a third of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen development for the next years is expected to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike 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 enable time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

As with most of the governments net-zero technique documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry consisted of a list of demands, stating that the federal government must “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually absolutely no.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

The plan also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on natural gas.

Its versatility implies it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high rates and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon budget impact evaluation and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart listed below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it could then broaden substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the nations overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a major expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its possible use in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies launched previously this year.

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

Business such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have warned that the UK threats being left. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made using gas, with the resulting emissions captured and saved..

The file does not do that and instead states it will supply “more detail on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using 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 costs of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government must “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

Supporting a variety of tasks will offer the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

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

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 approach for computing these emissions.

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 “think about carbon intensity as the main element in market advancement”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen expenses released together with the main method, reveals the expected declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, 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 “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study resulted in headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made using electrolysers “could end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had “exposed” the door for uses that “dont include the most worth for the climate or economy”. She includes:.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from fuelling cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.”.

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

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 present power sector.

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

The strategy also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps..

One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which many scientists deem more effective and cost-effective technology.

Coverage of the report and government marketing materials stressed that the governments plan would provide adequate hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

” As the technique confesses, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we need to use 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.

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

The beginning point for the variety– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses.

In the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and providing versatility to the power system. Call for 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 competitors in 2021. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to pick its top priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the brand-new method consist of:. The government is more optimistic about the use of 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 listed below suggests. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all use cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. 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 "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, suggests potential hydrogen need 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. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the 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 feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and structures method might also supply some clearness. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final decision in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those need to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a task supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for private households. According to the governments news release, its preferred design is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to get in the sector. The 10-point plan included a pledge to establish a hydrogen company model to motivate personal financial investment and an earnings system to offer funding for the company design. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy usage 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 industry "within a year"." As the method admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. These agreements are developed to overcome the cost gap in between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. The new hydrogen strategy validates that this service model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the primary strategy. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds. Sharelines from this story. Now that its method has actually been published, the government states it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. " 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 technologies could play in attaining the levels of production essential to fulfill our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.".