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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and analyzes some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Professionals have alerted 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 brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen technique supplies more detail on how the federal government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is virtually non-existent.

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

On the other hand, company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon way have been delayed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

The file consists of 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.

Its flexibility suggests it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it currently suffers from high prices and low performance..

Companies such as Equinor are pressing on with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however industry figures have alerted that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have actually pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

Hydrogen is commonly viewed as a vital part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing plans.

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

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

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation methods released earlier this year.

Nevertheless, similar to the majority of the governments net-zero method files up until now, the hydrogen strategy has been delayed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this new market.

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budget plans and achieve net-zero emissions, choices in locations such as decarbonising heating and vehicles need to be made in the 2020s to allow time for facilities and automobile stock modifications.

The strategy likewise called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the creation of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce reliance on 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 government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

As the chart below shows, if the federal governments strategies come to fruition it could then broaden considerably– taking up in between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

Critics also characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to keep the status quo. (For all the benefits and downsides 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 an essential part of its net-zero strategy, and states it wants the nation to be a “worldwide leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

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

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

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” set out in the strategy.

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon spending plan effect assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen method.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

Environmental groups and many scientists are sceptical about blue hydrogen offered its associated emissions.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the blue vs green hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

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

Comparison of price estimates across different innovation types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The CCC has actually previously stated that the federal government must “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from different routes to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen readily available, according to federal government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

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

The former is basically zero-carbon, but the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and the truth that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

The CCC has actually warned that policies should establish both blue and green choices, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), stated in a declaration that the federal government should “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the environment, an amount understood as the worldwide warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for attaining net-zero. It states enabling some blue hydrogen will lower emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is inadequate green hydrogen offered..

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by eco-friendly electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, utilisation and capture] -made it possible for methane reformation as early as 2025”..


The brand-new strategy mostly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the federal government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both ranges.

Nevertheless, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– explaining that it counted on extremely high methane leakage and a short-term measure of global warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “settle style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

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

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

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

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 strength as the main factor in market advancement”.

Brief (ideally) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really terribly & & without any sensible policies. And after that cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released along with the primary strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The method states that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by particular technologies “depends upon a range of assumptions, which can just be evaluated through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

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

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

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen expert at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the technique had actually “left open” the door for usages that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She adds:.

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

” As the method admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. [For that reason] we need 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 declaration.

Although low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do everything from fuelling cars to heating houses, the reality is that it will likely be limited by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

Nevertheless, the strategy likewise includes the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electric heatpump..

” Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which include most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the initial scheduled 5GW of production and has rather mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with current applications– such as the chemicals industry– offered top priority.

Dedications made in the brand-new technique include:.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which lots of researchers deem more cost-efficient and effective technology.

The beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes.

Government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends prospective hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035.

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

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

Protection of the report and federal government marketing products emphasised that the governments strategy would offer enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

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

Nevertheless, in the real report, the federal government said that it expected “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. This remains 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 existing power sector. The brand-new method is clear that market will be a "lead alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will "most likely" be essential for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items automobiles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. Illustrative hydrogen need in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy. Some applications, such as commercial heating, might be practically difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, at least in the short-term. The committee emphasises that hydrogen use must be limited to "locations less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of industry" and offering versatility to the power system. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. Call for evidence on "hydrogen-ready" industrial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence 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 competitors in 2021. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states 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. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently available ... those must be the focus.". Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government says it will examine mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a decision in late 2023. Much will hinge on the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings technique may also offer some clearness. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new innovations might play in achieving the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains costly compared to fossil fuel options, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to get in the sector. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. The 10-point strategy consisted of a pledge to develop a hydrogen service design to motivate personal investment and an earnings mechanism to supply financing for the organization model. Now that its method has actually been released, the federal government says it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Sharelines from this story. These agreements are created to conquer the expense gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for private households. Hydrogen demand (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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method verifies that this company design will be finalised in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched alongside the primary technique. According to the governments press release, its preferred model is "developed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of new overseas wind farms.