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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights essential points from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at some of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, firm choices around the level 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 assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

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

Its versatility suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it currently suffers from high costs and low performance..

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central variety is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the 6th carbon spending plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the whole variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

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

There were likewise over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and automobiles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and car stock changes.

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to minimize reliance on natural gas.

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

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

Today we have released the UKs first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire industry release the marketplace to cut costs increase domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of private capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is currently made from gas– as a method for fossil fuel companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, but industry figures have warned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have actually vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

Prior to the new strategy, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of yearly low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at virtually no.

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

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

There was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term measure of international warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

This opposition came to a head when a current research study led to headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “worse for the environment than coal”.

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

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

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

The figure listed 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 techniques above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electricity, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions caught and saved..

For its part, the CCC has actually suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a beneficial tool for achieving net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

The federal government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the strategy, with a promise to “finalise style elements” of such requirements by early 2022.

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

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

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 aspect in market development”.

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

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

The file does refrain from doing that and instead states it will provide “additional detail on our production strategy and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts 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 simply carbon dioxide.

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

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 argument”. He says:.

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

Brief (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done actually badly & & with no reasonable guidelines. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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


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

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific technologies “depends upon a variety of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

The chart below, from a file describing hydrogen costs released along with the main technique, reveals the expected declining 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% eco-friendly.).

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

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

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

” Stronger signals of intent could guide private and public financial investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly set out how to choose upon which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary planned 5GW of production and has instead largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Coverage of the report and government promotional products stressed that the federal governments plan would supply sufficient hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually “exposed” the door for usages that “dont add the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

The government is more optimistic about using hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below suggests.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the federal government to select its top priorities carefully.

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

One significant exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which many scientists consider as more cost-efficient and efficient technology.

However, the strategy likewise includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to take on electric heatpump..

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “overall the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. The brand-new technique is clear that market will be a "lead choice" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise states that it will "most likely" be necessary for decarbonising transportation-- especially heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. " As the method confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. The committee stresses that hydrogen use ought to be limited to "areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry" and providing flexibility to the power system. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided top priority. The CCC does not see substantial use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below programs. Commitments made in the brand-new method consist of:. Government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year". Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling vehicles to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced. Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be practically impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short term. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Existing 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 houses.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. Lastly, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the government states it will analyze blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and goal to make a decision in late 2023. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in market] that are already readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments upcoming heat and buildings technique might likewise supply some clarity. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for private homes. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for companies aiming to get in the sector. These contracts are designed to overcome the expense space between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be offered a payment that bridges this gap. The new hydrogen method verifies that this service design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first contracts to be allocated from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released along with the main technique. Sharelines from this story. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal investment and an earnings system to supply financing for business design. Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy consumption 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 strategy admits, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government says it will collect proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the company design:. 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 come from either higher expenses or public funds. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will meet a ramp-up in demand, and the function that brand-new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production essential to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". According to the governments press release, its favored model is "built on a similar property to the overseas wind agreements for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of brand-new offshore wind farms.