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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as an essential element in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of significant hype, with numerous nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

Its flexibility suggests it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high costs and low performance..

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

Prior to the brand-new technique, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at practically zero.

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 plan, and states it wants the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its possible usage in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and automobile stock modifications.

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

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

The file contains 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 been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The central range is based on illustrative net-zero constant circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan impact evaluation and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the governments plans concern fruition it might then broaden significantly– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

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

However, similar to many of the federal governments net-zero technique documents up until now, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, leading to uncertainty around the future of this fledgling industry.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of worldwide warming potential that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

” If we wish to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will reduce emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

The strategy keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon capture, storage and utilisation] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

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

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

The CCC has previously stated that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen strategy.

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to establish both blue and green alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

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

Supporting a range of tasks will offer the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the federal government. Germany, by contrast, has stated it will focus specifically on green hydrogen.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called the international warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

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 method. (For more on the relative expenses of various hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

Brief (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & with no practical guidelines. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

The figure listed below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, shows the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government ought to “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

This opposition capped when a current research study caused headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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 blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He says:.

In the example chosen for the assessment, gas paths where CO2 capture rates are listed below around 85% were excluded..

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

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

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 “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market development”.

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

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary strategy, reveals the expected decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made utilizing grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The file does not do that and rather says it will provide “more information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..


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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short-term.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. " Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has not clearly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.". This remains in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. However, the starting point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is significant unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and prompted the federal government to choose its top priorities thoroughly. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial devices 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 competition in 2021. Dedications made in the new method consist of:. Coverage of the report and government advertising products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests possible hydrogen demand of as much as 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- provided top concern. The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage need to be restricted to "areas less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of industry" and offering flexibility to the power system. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler cars and trucks. This is constant with the governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which numerous scientists see as more efficient and cost-efficient technology. The CCC does not see extensive usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody brand-new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all use cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The federal government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. " As the technique admits, there wont be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we need to use it where there are few alternatives 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. The new method is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products lorries, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had "left open" the door for uses that "do not add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. Nevertheless, the strategy likewise includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heatpump.. 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%. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those need to be the focus.". Much will depend upon the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures technique might likewise supply some clearness. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze mixing up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a last decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? Now that its method has been published, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production required to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely small" for specific homes. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage personal investment and a revenue system to supply financing for the business model. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion 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 method admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions 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, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either higher bills or public funds. The new hydrogen method confirms that this service design will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been introduced along with the main strategy. These agreements are designed to get rid of the expense space between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story.