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

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights crucial points from the 121-page technique and examines some of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Company decisions around the extent of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been delayed or put out to assessment for the time being.

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

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

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

Why does the UK need a hydrogen technique?

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

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

Hydrogen is extensively seen as a crucial part in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has been the subject of considerable buzz, with many nations prioritising it in their post-Covid green healing strategies.

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

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

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

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and accomplish 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 lorry stock changes.

There were likewise over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in lots of sectors. It also features in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation strategies released earlier this year.

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

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from natural gas– as a method for nonrenewable fuel source companies to maintain the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

As the chart listed below shows, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then expand substantially– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Prior to the brand-new method, the prime ministers 10-point strategy in November 2020 included strategies to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capacity stands at virtually absolutely no.

Its flexibility means it can be used to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, but it currently experiences high costs and low performance..

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

Nevertheless, just like the majority of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this new market.

Hydrogen need (pink area) and percentage of final energy consumption in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero consistent scenarios in the sixth carbon spending plan effect assessment and the full variety is based on the whole variety from hydrogen method analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

Hydrogen growth for the next years is expected to start gradually, with a government aspiration to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the technique.

The file includes an exploration of how the UK will expand 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.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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 solely on green hydrogen.

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

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

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

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

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen provided its associated emissions.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or any place, then we need enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

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

The figure 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, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

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

Nevertheless, there was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other scientists– including CCC head of carbon spending plans, David Joffe– explaining that it relied on really high methane leak and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming capacity that stressed the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

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

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 “think about carbon intensity as the main aspect in market advancement”.

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

The government has actually released an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the method, with a promise to “finalise design aspects” of such standards by early 2022.

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

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

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


For its part, the CCC has actually advised a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions quicker in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is not sufficient green hydrogen offered..

The chart below, from a file detailing hydrogen costs released along with the main technique, shows the anticipated declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electricity, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells 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:.

The strategy mentions that the percentage of hydrogen provided by specific innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be tested through the marketplaces reaction to the policies set out in this method and genuine, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The new strategy mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, but it says the government has actually committed to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

Quick (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. Essentially, the papers estimations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done truly badly & & without any sensible guidelines. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

It has also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for determining these emissions.

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

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

The file does refrain from doing that and rather says it will offer “additional information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government need to “be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the country locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

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

However, in the real report, the government stated that it anticipated “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen professional at thinktank E3G informs Carbon Brief the method had actually "left open" the door for uses that "do not add the most worth for the climate or economy". She includes:. " Stronger signals of intent could steer public and private investments into those locations which include most worth. The federal government has not plainly set out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the initial planned 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through trials and pilots.". Although low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from sustaining cars to heating houses, the truth is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my attempt to put use cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use 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 alternative" for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will "likely" be essential for decarbonising transportation-- particularly heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation-- and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid. The CCC does not see extensive use of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below programs. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- suggests there is significant uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the greatest quote is only around a 10th of the energy currently utilized to heat UK houses. It contains plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. One noteworthy exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell passenger cars and trucks. This is constant with the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars and trucks, which lots of researchers view as more effective and affordable technology. The technique likewise includes the alternative of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electrical heat pumps.. Some applications, such as industrial heating, might be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous professionals have argued that these are the cases where it must be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. " As the method confesses, there will not be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and prompted the government to select its priorities thoroughly. Dedications made in the brand-new technique consist of:. Protection of the report and federal government promotional products stressed that the governments plan would supply adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year. The federal government is more positive about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart listed below shows. Federal government analysis, included in the technique, recommends potential hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised making use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with present applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. 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 competitors in 2021. The committee stresses that hydrogen usage must be limited to "areas less fit to electrification, especially shipping and parts of market" and supplying flexibility to the power system. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Finally, in order to develop a market for hydrogen, the federal government says it will examine blending approximately 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to choose these no-regret choices for hydrogen need [in industry] that are already readily available ... those must be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings method may also offer some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a task manager at Agora Energiewende, informs Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He explains:. How does the government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen remains pricey compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high risks for companies intending to go into the sector. These agreements are developed to overcome the cost space between the preferred innovation and nonrenewable fuel sources. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this gap. " This will give us a much better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the function that new innovations could play in attaining the levels of production required to satisfy our future [sixth carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". 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 industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater costs or public funds. Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-term security to the industry would be "very small" for individual families. The brand-new hydrogen technique confirms that this company design will be finalised in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another consultation, which has been released along with the primary technique. Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of final 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 industry "within a year"." As the strategy confesses, there wont be significant amounts 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. According to the governments news release, its favored design is "constructed on a similar property to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which considerably cut costs of new overseas wind farms. The 10-point strategy included a pledge to develop a hydrogen company model to encourage personal financial investment and a profits mechanism to offer financing for the service model. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Sharelines from this story.