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

Company choices around the extent of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon method have been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen method offers 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 short article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page method and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Specialists 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 market as capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have cautioned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European countries have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to enable time for facilities and lorry stock modifications.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the sixth carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete range is based on the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

The file includes 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 looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

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

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

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

As the chart below programs, if the governments plans come to fruition it might then expand significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a major growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

Its adaptability indicates it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently struggles with high rates and low efficiency..

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

However, as with the majority of the governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has been delayed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this new market.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible use in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transport decarbonisation strategies released previously this year.

Hydrogen is commonly seen as a crucial component in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering industry included a list of needs, specifying that the federal government should “broaden beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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

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

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and stored..


However, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of global warming potential that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched together with the main technique, shows the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

It has likewise launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for calculating these emissions.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies should develop both green and blue alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends upon a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

Short (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & with no sensible regulations. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the impact of setting a threshold 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 omitted.

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 blue vs green hydrogen debate”. He says:.

The strategy keeps in mind that, in some cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, capture and storage] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025″..

Contrast of price quotes throughout different innovation types at central fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

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

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

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the main factor in market development”.

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

Responding to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to choose its concerns thoroughly.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

” As the method admits, there will not be considerable 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.

Nevertheless, the method also includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps..

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had actually “exposed” the door for uses that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

However, in the real report, the government stated that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK homes. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage ought to be restricted to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. 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. One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger automobiles. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which many researchers consider as more cost-efficient and effective technology. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be very important for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy goods automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. 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 usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are equally most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised using low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered leading priority. Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen outside of these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Protection of the report and government marketing products stressed that the federal governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends prospective hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. " Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to pick which sectors will gain from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.". The government is more optimistic about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. Much will depend upon the development of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method might also offer some clarity. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies aiming to enter the sector. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this service design will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first agreements to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced together with the primary technique. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "constructed on a comparable premise to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final 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 technique admits, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher bills or public funds. Sharelines from this story. These contracts are created to overcome the expense space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. Now that its method has been published, the federal government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-term security to the industry would be "very little" for specific homes. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to establish a hydrogen organization design to motivate private financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer financing for the organization model.