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

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

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

In this article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and examines a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

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

Firm choices around the extent 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 assessment for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen technique?

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capability stands at practically zero.

The strategy 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”.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as a crucial component in plans to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the topic of significant buzz, with lots of countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

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

The document consists of an expedition 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 seeking to import hydrogen from abroad.

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

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen advancements in the UK, however market figures have actually warned that the UK threats being left behind. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen expansion.

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

Nevertheless, just like most of the federal governments net-zero strategy files up until now, the hydrogen plan has been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this fledgling market.

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

Hydrogen demand (pink location) and percentage of final energy usage in 2050 (%). The central range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent circumstances in the 6th carbon budget plan impact assessment and the complete variety is based upon the entire range from hydrogen strategy analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and attain net-zero emissions, choices in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries require to be made in the 2020s to enable time for infrastructure and automobile stock changes.

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

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans come to fulfillment it might then broaden considerably– taking up between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will require a significant expansion of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is presently made from gas– as a way for nonrenewable fuel source business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

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

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its potential usage in lots of sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transport decarbonisation techniques launched earlier this year.

Its versatility means it can be utilized to deal with emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it presently experiences high rates and low performance..

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

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, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “think about carbon strength as the primary consider market development”.

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 approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

Green hydrogen is made utilizing electrolysers powered by renewable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used gas, with the resulting emissions captured and kept..

The chart below, from a document laying out hydrogen expenses launched along with the primary strategy, shows the expected decreasing cost of electrolytic hydrogen with time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen used grid electrical power, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

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

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

The brand-new method mostly avoids using this colour-coding system, however it says the federal government has committed to a “twin track” method that will include the production of both ranges.

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

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a statement that the government should “live to the threat of gas market lobbying triggering it to devote too greatly to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that roll out making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or wherever, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side considerations are complete.”.

It has likewise released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at maximum acceptable levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the method for calculating these emissions.

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

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


Quick (hopefully) reviewing this blue hydrogen thing. Generally, the papers computations possibly represent a case where blue H ₂ is done really severely & & without any reasonable policies. And after that cherry-picked an environment metric to make it look as bad as possible.— David Joffe (@david_joffe) August 13, 2021.

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

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 green vs blue hydrogen dispute”. He states:.

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for attaining net-zero. It says allowing some blue hydrogen will lower emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more fossil fuels with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen readily available..

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

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

The CCC has formerly specified “ideal emissions decreases” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For an offered amount, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity known as … Read More.

There was considerable pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on very high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of international warming potential that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the environment, an amount referred to as the international warming potential. Co2 equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply carbon dioxide.

The strategy notes that, in many cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might become cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

This opposition capped when a recent research study resulted in headlines stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

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

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

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

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

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

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead choice” for early hydrogen usage, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items lorries, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Call for proof on “hydrogen-ready” industrial 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.

One significant exemption is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electric cars, which lots of scientists consider as more effective and cost-efficient innovation.

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

The committee emphasises that hydrogen usage must be restricted to “areas less matched to electrification, especially shipping and parts of industry” and providing flexibility to the power system.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal investments into those areas which include most worth. The federal government has actually not clearly laid out how to choose upon which sectors will benefit from the preliminary scheduled 5GW of production and has instead mainly left this to be figured out through pilots and trials.”.

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

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

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

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

Dedications made in the new technique consist of:.

In the real report, the government said that it expected “in general the need for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. However, the beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable uncertainty compared to other sectors, and even the highest quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Reacting to the report, energy scientists indicated the "small" volumes of hydrogen anticipated to be produced in the future and urged the government to choose its concerns thoroughly. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and lots of professionals have argued that these hold true where it need to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term. Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do everything from fuelling automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced. It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on "hydrogen-ready" boilers by 2026. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen method. Government analysis, consisted of in the strategy, suggests potential hydrogen need of up to 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not including mixing it into the gas grid, and rising to 55-165TWh by 2035. The CCC does not see substantial usage of hydrogen beyond these limited cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The strategy likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be much better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to complete with electrical heat pumps.. This is in line with the CCCs suggestion for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling as much as 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the current power sector. The federal government is more positive about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis suggests that up to 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this usage by 2035, as the chart below suggests. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. In order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will examine blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a final decision in late 2023. Gniewomir Flis, a project supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He describes:. " I would recommend to choose these no-regret alternatives for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those should be the focus.". Much will hinge on the development of feasibility research studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and buildings strategy might likewise offer some clarity. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Now that its strategy has been published, the federal government states it will gather proof from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. The brand-new hydrogen technique verifies that this organization model will be settled in 2022, allowing the very first contracts to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been released together with the primary strategy. According to the governments press release, its favored model is "developed on a similar property to the overseas wind contracts for distinction (CfDs)", which significantly cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will fulfill a ramp-up in need, and the role that brand-new technologies might play in achieving the levels of production necessary to fulfill our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean growth and environment modification at BEIS-- told the Times that the cost to offer long-lasting security to the market would be "extremely little" for specific homes. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high threats for companies intending to enter the sector. These contracts are developed to conquer the expense gap between the favored innovation and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be provided a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen strategy, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either higher costs or public funds. The 10-point plan included a pledge to develop a hydrogen business model to encourage personal financial investment and an earnings mechanism to provide financing for business model. Hydrogen need (pink location) and proportion 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 strategy admits, there will not be substantial amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen method mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030.