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

Hydrogen will be “critical” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might use up to a 3rd of the nations energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page method and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

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

Specialists have actually warned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an essential component in strategies to attain net-zero emissions and has been the subject of substantial buzz, with lots of nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

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

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

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on natural gas.

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

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its prospective use in many sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from natural gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then expand considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of facilities and skills in the UK.

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

The document includes an exploration of how the UK will broaden 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.

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

In its brand-new strategy, the UK 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 “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have warned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European countries have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals 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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

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

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for calculating these emissions.

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 debate”. He says:.

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen expenses released along with the primary technique, reveals the anticipated declining cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

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

The new method mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the government has actually committed to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

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

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

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

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated 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 “consider carbon intensity as the main consider market development”.

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

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

The document does not do that and instead states it will offer “further information on our production strategy and twin track approach by early 2022”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount referred to as … Read More.

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

The CCC has actually alerted that policies must establish both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.


” If we want to show, trial, begin to commercialise and after that present using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity referred to as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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 minimize emissions much faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen available..

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific technologies “depends on a variety of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, the starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses.

Commitments made in the brand-new method include:.

However, the technique also consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heatpump..

So, 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 clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, because not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

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

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “small” volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the government to select its concerns thoroughly.

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials stressed that the governments plan would provide enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m houses each year.

The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates.

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

Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, 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.

” Stronger signals of intent might steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which include most value. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

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

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many experts have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, at least in the short term.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This follows the federal governments focus on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers deem more efficient and cost-efficient technology.

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

Nevertheless, in the actual report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The new method is clear that industry will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy goods automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and providing flexibility to the power system. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. " As the technique confesses, there wont be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are few 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. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont add the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently offered ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and structures technique may also offer some clarity. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "developed on a comparable premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. These contracts are developed to conquer the cost space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen producers would be given a payment that bridges this gap. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific families. Now that its method has been published, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the method confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in attaining the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the plan for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher expenses or public funds. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen company model to encourage personal investment and an earnings mechanism to provide funding for business model. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies aiming to go into the sector. The brand-new hydrogen strategy verifies that this business design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has actually been released alongside the primary technique.