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

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

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

Hydrogen will be “vital” for attaining the UKs net-zero target and might consume to a third of the countrys energy by 2050, according to the federal government.

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page method and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in numerous sectors. It also features in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched previously this year.

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

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market included a list of needs, stating that the government should “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has been echoed by some market groups.

Today we have released the UKs very 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 personal capital assistance 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as a crucial element in plans to accomplish net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

Business such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, however market figures have warned that the UK risks being left behind. Other European countries have vowed billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

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

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

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The main variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the sixth carbon budget plan impact assessment and the full variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

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

The document contains 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 actually been seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Prior to the brand-new strategy, 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. Currently, this capability stands at essentially no.

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

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

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

Its adaptability means it can be used to tackle emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, but it presently suffers from high rates and low efficiency..

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

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The document does refrain from doing that and instead says it will supply “further detail on our production technique and twin track method by early 2022”.

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

The method specifies that the proportion of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a variety of presumptions, which can only be checked through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this technique and real, at-scale release of hydrogen”..

Nevertheless, there was substantial pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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 argument”. He says:.

The chart below, from a document describing hydrogen costs released alongside the main technique, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% eco-friendly.).

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

The government has launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

The figure listed below from the assessment, 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.


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

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

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

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

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the most affordable low-carbon hydrogen offered, according to federal government analysis consisted of in the technique. (For more on the relative expenses of different hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

In the example chosen for the assessment, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were left out..

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions recorded and kept..

The new method mainly prevents utilizing this colour-coding system, but it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both ranges.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered quantity, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount called the global warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

The previous is basically 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 record 100% of emissions..

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

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

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

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 factor in market development”.

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 savings”.

For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for achieving net-zero. It states 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 available..

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government must “be alive to the danger of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

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

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

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

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

Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous specialists have argued that these are the cases where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

The committee stresses that hydrogen use should be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, especially delivering and parts of market” and offering versatility to the power system.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with present applications– such as the chemicals industry– provided top concern.

The strategy also includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps..

However, the beginning point for the range– 0TWh– recommends there is substantial uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is just around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

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

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

” As the strategy admits, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for a long time. [] we require to use it where there are few alternatives and not as a like-for-like replacement of gas,” Dr Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, in a declaration.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and urged the government to pick its top priorities carefully.

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

Protection of the report and government marketing materials stressed that the federal governments plan would offer sufficient hydrogen to replace gas in around 3m homes each year.

Dedications made in the brand-new method include:.

The brand-new technique is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It also says that it will “likely” be very important for decarbonising transport– especially heavy items vehicles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

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

The CCC does not see comprehensive usage of hydrogen outside of these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

So, my lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anyone new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put usage cases for tidy hydrogen into some sort of merit order, since not all usage cases are similarly likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

” Stronger signals of intent might guide private and public financial investments into those locations which add most value. The government has not plainly laid out how to choose which sectors will gain from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be determined through trials and pilots.”.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a third of the size of the existing power sector.

The federal government is more optimistic about the 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 below shows.

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

One notable exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell traveler vehicles. This is constant with the federal governments focus on electrical vehicles, which numerous researchers deem more efficient and economical innovation.

In the actual report, the government said that it expected “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. It contains prepare for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method specifies that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Present energy need in the UK for space and hot water heating is 435 TWh according to Ofgem. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Thats about 67,000 homes.-- Jan Rosenow (@janrosenow) August 17, 2021. " I would recommend to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in market] that are already offered ... those must be the focus.". In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will take a look at blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final choice in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He discusses:. Much will depend upon the progress of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures technique may likewise offer some clearness. How does the federal government plan to support the hydrogen industry? Now that its method has actually been published, the government says it will collect evidence from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the business design:. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage 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 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 anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The new hydrogen method verifies that this company design will be settled in 2022, making it possible for the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has been released along with the primary method. Sharelines from this story. " This will provide us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the role that new technologies could play in accomplishing the levels of production needed to meet our future [6th carbon budget] and net-zero dedications.". These agreements are designed to conquer the cost space in between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. 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 substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to develop a hydrogen organization design to encourage personal financial investment and a revenue mechanism to supply funding for the service design. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the cost to provide long-term security to the industry would be "extremely small" for specific homes. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains expensive compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business intending to get in the sector. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, focused on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the money would come from either higher bills or public funds.