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

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

Professionals have actually cautioned that, with hydrogen in brief supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy industry as capacity expands.

In this post, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the main 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 been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

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

Its flexibility indicates it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important part in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the topic of substantial hype, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

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

Hydrogen development for the next decade is anticipated to begin slowly, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

The strategy likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen area warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower reliance on gas.

There were likewise over 100 referrals to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation methods released previously this year.

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

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

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

As with most of the governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen strategy has been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

The document includes an exploration of how the UK will broaden production and develop a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget plan impact assessment and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “conscious of a possible pipeline of over 15GW of jobs”.

As the chart listed below shows, if the governments strategies come to fulfillment it might then expand considerably– taking up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of facilities and skills in the UK.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?


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

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells 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:.

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

This opposition came to a head when a recent study resulted in headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the climate than coal”.

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, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

In the example picked for the assessment, gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

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

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 “think about carbon intensity as the primary factor in market development”.

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

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

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, a quantity known as the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs released together with the primary method, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made using grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

Contrast of price quotes throughout different technology types at central 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), stated in a declaration that the federal government need to “be alive to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It states allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by changing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

The technique mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a range of presumptions, which can just be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

The CCC has alerted that policies need to develop both blue and green alternatives, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

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

The new strategy mostly avoids utilizing this colour-coding system, however it says the government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

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

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

In the real report, the government said that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most value for the climate or economy". She adds:. 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 "most likely" be crucial for decarbonising transport-- especially heavy products automobiles, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " Stronger signals of intent might steer private and public investments into those locations which add most value. The federal government has not clearly set out how to decide upon which sectors will benefit from the initial organized 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.". " As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [For that reason] we require to utilize it where there are couple of 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. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, recommends possible 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. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of experts have actually argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term. The method also includes the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electric heat pumps.. Protection of the report and federal government marketing products stressed that the federal governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can probably be produced. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. The beginning point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK houses. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be restricted to "locations less matched to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and offering flexibility to the power system. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the "little" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and advised the government to select its top priorities carefully. Require proof on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require 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 competition in 2021. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric vehicles, which lots of researchers consider as more effective and cost-efficient innovation. Commitments made in the brand-new strategy include:. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation 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 existing power sector. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone brand-new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean 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. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for area and warm water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. So 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently offered ... those should be the focus.". Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings method might likewise offer some clearness. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He explains:. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen market? These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Much of the resulting press coverage 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 money would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will collect evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business design:. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for business intending to enter the sector. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to supply long-lasting security to the market would be "really little" for private households. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage personal investment and a revenue system to supply funding for the company model. The new hydrogen method validates that this company model will be settled in 2022, allowing the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced along with the main technique. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new technologies might play in attaining the levels of production needed to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". According to the federal governments news release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar facility to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion of final energy usage 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 admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy mentions that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.