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 method and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Hydrogen will be “important” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and could utilize up to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the government.

Specialists 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 industry as capacity expands.

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen method?

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the development of a hydrogen area heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to decrease reliance on gas.

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

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

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

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

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential use in lots of sectors. It likewise includes in the commercial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

Hydrogen is extensively seen as an important part in strategies to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of substantial buzz, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

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

Critics also characterise hydrogen– many of which is currently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to preserve the status quo. (For all the advantages and drawbacks of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs extensive explainer.).

The method does not increase this target, although it notes that the government is “conscious of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, specifying that the government needs to “broaden beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the upcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and attain net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and cars require to be made in the 2020s to permit time for facilities and lorry stock changes.

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

Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of final energy intake in 2050 (%). The main range is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the sixth carbon spending plan effect evaluation and the complete range is based upon the whole range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

However, as with many of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, leading to unpredictability around the future of this fledgling market.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have alerted that the UK risks being left. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount known as the international warming capacity. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

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

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

The figure listed below from the assessment, based on this analysis, reveals the impact 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 excluded.

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.

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

For its part, the CCC has recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– consisting of CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it counted on really high methane leak and a short-term step of international warming capacity that stressed the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Brief (hopefully) assessing this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers calculations potentially represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly severely & & with no reasonable regulations. 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 lots of discussions about low-carbon hydrogen production is whether the hydrogen is “green” or “blue”.

Supporting a range of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary method, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen gradually (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

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

The government has actually launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise style 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 “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He says:.

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

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a given amount, different greenhouse gases trap various amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called … Read More.

The new technique mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

The file does not do that and rather states it will supply “additional detail on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

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


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

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

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, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market advancement”.

The technique specifies that the percentage of hydrogen provided by particular technologies “depends upon a series of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The former is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leakages from natural gas facilities and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

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

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to “locations less suited to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and supplying flexibility to the power system.

The method likewise consists of the choice of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps..

Coverage of the report and federal government promotional materials emphasised that the governments plan would offer enough hydrogen to change gas in around 3m houses each year.

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

Commitments made in the new strategy consist of:.

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

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

Government analysis, included in the method, suggests possible hydrogen need 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.

One notable exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This is consistent with the federal governments focus on electric cars and trucks, which many researchers deem more effective and cost-efficient technology.

Reacting to the report, energy researchers indicated the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and prompted the government to pick its priorities carefully.

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be fairly low (<< 1TWh)".. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. " As the technique admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The starting point for the range-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes. " Stronger signals of intent could guide personal and public investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be determined through pilots and trials.". Require evidence on "hydrogen-ready" commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year". Stage 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021. The government is more optimistic about the usage of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that approximately 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- offered leading priority. Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually "exposed" the door for usages that "dont include the most worth for the environment or economy". She includes:. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of specialists have actually argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short term. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021. The brand-new strategy is clear that market will be a "lead option" for early hydrogen use, starting in the mid-2020s. It also states that it will "likely" be necessary for decarbonising transport-- particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and aviation-- and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Current energy demand 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. Much will hinge on the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments upcoming heat and buildings strategy might also supply some clarity. Lastly, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze mixing approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen need [in market] that are currently readily available ... those ought to be the focus.". How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the plan for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds. Hydrogen need (pink area) and proportion of last energy consumption 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 technique confesses, there wont be substantial quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique 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 development and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-lasting security to the industry would be "really little" for specific households. " This will give us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in demand, and the role that brand-new innovations might play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to meet our future [sixth carbon budget] and net-zero commitments.". As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to nonrenewable fuel source alternatives, there is unpredictability about the level of future need and high dangers for business intending to go into the sector. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which considerably cut expenses of brand-new overseas wind farms. Now that its method has 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:. The 10-point strategy consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen business model to motivate private investment and a profits system to supply funding for the business design. These agreements are designed to overcome the cost space between the preferred innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. Sharelines from this story. The brand-new hydrogen method verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been launched together with the main strategy.