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

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Professionals have cautioned 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.

The UKs new, long-awaited hydrogen method provides 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 attaining the UKs net-zero target and could use up to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the complete range is based on the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

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

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

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

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles require to be made in the 2020s to allow time for infrastructure and car stock changes.

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an essential part in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the topic of significant hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

The file includes an expedition 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 aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Nevertheless, as the chart below programs, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys overall energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the method.

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in many sectors. It likewise features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

Its versatility means it can be utilized to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently struggles with high rates and low performance..

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 decrease reliance on natural gas.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most inexpensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis consisted of in the method. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen ranges, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

Quick (ideally) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually terribly & & without any reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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

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

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 “consider carbon intensity as the main aspect in market development”.

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

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

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

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

This opposition capped when a current study led to headings mentioning that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says enabling some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen readily available..

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.


The figure listed below from the assessment, 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 methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

It has actually also released 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 method for calculating these emissions.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, an amount called the global warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

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

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen expenses released along with the primary method, reveals the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The technique states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can just be tested through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

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

The government has released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “settle design aspects” of such requirements 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 actually formerly stated that the federal government ought to “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

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

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

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

Dedications made in the brand-new strategy consist of:.

Nevertheless, the method likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to take on electric heatpump..

The beginning point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is only around a 10th of the energy currently used to heat UK homes.

The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Protection of the report and federal government marketing products emphasised that the federal governments strategy would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from fuelling automobiles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with current applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- given leading concern. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart listed below indicates. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not add the most value for the climate or economy". She includes:. One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the governments concentrate on electric cars and trucks, which many researchers consider as more effective and economical technology. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the near future and urged the federal government to pick its priorities thoroughly. This is in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a third of the size of the present power sector. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have actually argued that these hold true where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. My lovelies, I simply 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 tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all usage cases are equally most likely to prosper. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021. " Stronger signals of intent might steer public and private financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has actually not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be identified through trials and pilots.". The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to "areas less fit to electrification, particularly shipping and parts of industry" and supplying versatility to the power system. " As the strategy confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Federal government analysis, consisted of in the method, suggests possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy specifies that the federal government expects << 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 alternatives for hydrogen need [in industry] that are currently available ... those should be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a project manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures method may also provide some clearness. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine mixing up to 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 market? The new hydrogen method confirms that this business model will be settled in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched along with the main method. According to the federal governments news release, its preferred design is "constructed on a comparable property to the offshore wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of brand-new offshore wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen company model to encourage private investment and a revenue system to provide financing for the organization design. These contracts are designed to get rid of the cost gap between the favored technology and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in accomplishing the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater bills or public funds. Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government states it will gather evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company model:. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely little" for individual households. Sharelines from this story. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to get in the sector. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I just 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 wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method states that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.