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

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

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

Meanwhile, firm decisions around the degree of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page method and takes a look at some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

Today we have actually published the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start a whole industry 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.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural 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.).

Its flexibility implies it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently experiences high prices and low efficiency..

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

However, as the chart listed below programs, if the federal governments strategies pertain to fruition it could then expand substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of facilities and abilities in the UK.

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

However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has kept in mind that, in order to hit the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and car stock modifications.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, showing its prospective usage in many sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new industry.

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

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

The plan also required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen mixing into gas networks to 20% to lower dependence on natural gas.

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

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

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

Hydrogen is widely seen as an essential component in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of substantial hype, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

The file consists of an expedition of how the UK will broaden production and produce a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been aiming to import hydrogen from abroad.

Hydrogen development for the next decade is expected to start gradually, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” set out in the technique.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

Short (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, various greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity understood as … Read More.

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

However, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon budgets, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term step of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The brand-new technique largely prevents using this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has devoted to a “twin track” technique that will consist of the production of both varieties.

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

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched alongside the main strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

The technique mentions that the proportion of hydrogen provided by particular innovations “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale deployment of hydrogen”..

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made utilizing steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis included in the technique. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The federal government has released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a pledge to “settle style components” of such requirements by early 2022.

For its part, the CCC has advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for achieving net-zero. It says permitting 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..

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present the usage of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side considerations are total.”.

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be left out.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysers powered by renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made utilizing gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

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 states:.

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 strength as the primary aspect in market development”.

The CCC has actually cautioned that policies need to establish both blue and green options, “instead of simply whichever is least-cost”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different quantities of heat in the environment, a quantity called the worldwide warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

It has actually likewise released 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 computing these emissions.

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


Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a statement that the government must “live to the danger of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

In the example picked for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

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

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

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the federal government to select its priorities thoroughly.

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

Nevertheless, the starting 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 houses.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be limited to “areas less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and offering versatility to the power system.

Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many specialists have actually argued that these are the cases where it should be prioritised, a minimum of in the brief term.

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

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining cars to heating homes, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Require evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Require evidence 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.

This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the present power sector.

Protection of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m houses each year.

However, the technique also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen needs to contend with electrical heatpump..

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are similarly most likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars. This follows the federal governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which many scientists deem more cost-efficient and effective innovation.

Federal government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests prospective hydrogen demand of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the strategy had “left open” the door for usages that “do not add the most worth for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

” As the method confesses, there will not be significant amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [Therefore] we require to use it where there are couple of 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.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “most likely” be essential for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items automobiles, shipping and aviation– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

In the real report, the federal government stated that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Dedications made in the brand-new method include:. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals industry-- offered top concern. " Stronger signals of intent might guide personal and public investments into those areas which add most value. The government has actually not clearly set out how to pick which sectors will take advantage of the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather largely left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.". The government is more positive about the usage 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. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the federal government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would suggest to go with these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those ought to be the focus.". Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine mixing as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of expediency studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and structures strategy might also offer some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen market? The 10-point plan included a promise to develop a hydrogen service model to encourage private financial investment and a revenue system to supply financing for the business design. These agreements are developed to get rid of the expense space in between the favored innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. " This will offer us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production necessary to meet our future [6th carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source options, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high dangers for companies intending to get in the sector. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut costs of brand-new overseas wind farms. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply 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 technique admits, there will not be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 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. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-lasting security to the industry would be "extremely small" for individual households. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either greater expenses or public funds. The new hydrogen technique confirms that this company model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released along with the main strategy. Now that its strategy has been published, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:.