Energy From Hydrogen
The UK government Hydrogen Strategy is part of its commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.The strategy, key to unlocking significant private-sector investment in the hydrogen sector, sets out the government’s plans to achieve 5GW of clean hydrogen by 2030. This also involves kick-starting the creation of skilled employment in hydrogen and similar green sectors.
The UK Hydrogen Strategy (2021)
With its increasing efforts to decarbonise the country, the UK government has laid out a plan to level-up production of low-carbon hydrogen as a versatile replacement for the fossil fuels we currently depend upon.
With the country aiming to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, the UK government recognises hydrogen as a stepping-stone towards this goal. They intend to deliver 5GW of green hydrogen production capacity by 2030 by working together with industry and technology providers.
Green hydrogen is vital to the UK’s decarbonisation goal, as it is the key to eliminating fossil fuel use in the ‘hard to electrify’ industrial sectors. It also can allow for greener energy in our heat and our transport.
‘Green Hydrogen’ is hydrogen produced entirely through low-carbon means. Usually, it is produced by electrolysis, a process that involves using electricity to separate hydrogen molecules from water. By using renewable electricity in this process, we can produce a versatile, clean fuel with zero carbon emissions.
Currently, there is virtually no low-carbon hydrogen produced or used in the UK. The government intends to significantly, and rapidly, scale this up in the next decade.
£240 million is set to be co-invested in green hydrogen through the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund (NZHF). Additionally, hydrogen transitioning is being supported through the £315 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, and through the £20 million Industrial Fuel Switching Competition.
Multiple trials for hydrogen use are planned throughout the 2020s, with demonstrations of hydrogen for road freight, shipping, and even aviation. Hydrogen heating will also be piloted in neighbourhoods, villages, and potentially whole towns by the end of the decade.
The government is also working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to evaluate the potential for blending hydrogen into the natural gas grid, for heating use. They aim to make 20% of the gas grid into hydrogen.
The UK has a unique opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in low-carbon hydrogen by developing a green hydrogen economy around its geography, geology, infrastructure and exceptional capabilities. By doing so, it will also give itself a competitive advantage over other nations.
Developing this green hydrogen economy will mean overcoming the challenge of expanding both supply and demand simultaneously. Thankfully, the UK has exceptional facilities for green hydrogen production. The UK generates more electricity from offshore wind power than any other country, and has reduced its power sector carbon emissions by more than 70% since 1990. The government plans to quadruple its offshore wind capacity by 2030. This means there is an abundance of low-carbon electricity, allowing the UK to both decarbonise the energy system and also support the production of green hydrogen through electrolysis.
The UK government is also supporting production efforts for ‘blue hydrogen’ – hydrogen produced via traditional means (steam methane reforming, with natural gas), but supported by carbon-capture technology that will prevent greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere. The captured carbon will then be stored underground. This means there is the major drawback of needing storage space to safely contain these emissions; as such, ‘blue hydrogen’ is limited and will only be used to support our journey to totally clean energy.
It is expected that industrial sectors will become demand centres in-turn, for this hydrogen to be supplied to. Sectors such as chemicals and food production are currently exploring hydrogen use. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are providing up to £170 million to invest in industrial decarbonisation infrastructure, which includes green hydrogen.
The government stresses the importance of growing the economy whilst cutting emissions. They promise that the transition to a low-carbon UK will deliver new, high-quality jobs to support ‘levelling up’. They will minimise costs over the long-term, and aim to deliver long-term value for money for both consumers and British taxpayers. Costs for hydrogen will initially be higher than existing fossil fuels; though as hydrogen use is accelerated, its cost will reduce massively very quickly.
Scaling-Up the Hydrogen Economy
The government aims to coordinate the collective efforts of the UK’s industries, research communities, and the British public to make the green hydrogen vision a reality.
By 2024, there are plans for small-scale electrolytic production of green hydrogen. There will be trials of hydrogen use for vehicles such as buses, HGVs, and trains.
By the mid-2020s, once the viability of hydrogen is proven, the scale of production will be increased. Dedicated small-scale pipeline networks will be in place, and industries will begin applying hydrogen to their processes. By 2025, there should be 1GW of hydrogen production capacity in the UK.
By the late 2020s, there will be several large-scale electrolytic projects in action, and hydrogen will see integration with the existing gas networks, with large cluster networks and large-scale storage solutions for hydrogen. Hydrogen will see increased use in industry.
Past 2030, the UK will have a 5GW production capacity. There will be an increasing scale and range of hydrogen production, incorporating renewable energy sources such as biomass. Regional and even national hydrogen networks will be developed, with potential for converting the whole gas grid.
To achieve this, the government is planning regulatory frameworks, grant-funding for many different investments, and programmes to support research and innovation. They aim to educate both investors and the general public on the potential and importance of low-carbon hydrogen, and the role it will play in our zero-carbon society.
Green Hydrogen’s Economic Boost for the UK
The government plans to maximise the economic benefits of the shift to zero-carbon in the coming decades. Green hydrogen plays a big role in this, as it is one of the priority areas of the £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio.
The UK has a unique suitability for the low-carbon hydrogen economy, with its existing infrastructure and wide range of expertise across the country. The government plans to develop a world-class supply chain, delivering employment and economic growth across regional areas of the UK.
The UK’s hydrogen economy is estimated to be worth around £900 million by 2030, and will support over 9,000 jobs. If hydrogen becomes a dominant fuel source as this report predicts, by 2050 the hydrogen economy could be worth £13 billion and employ up to 100,000 workers. In this scenario, exports will be an important factor.
To deliver on these new jobs and local economic growth, the government will work together with industries, the trade unions, local authorities, and enterprise agencies in order to ensure targeted investment in skills and training for this new economy. This will include investment with education providers for apprenticeships and re-skilling programmes.
Many of these new workers will come directly from current high-carbon industries, which will be scaled down as the UK transitions into its ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. These workers will have transferable skills from sector-to-sector, meaning with the right investments, there will not be major job losses when these industries are eventually replaced.
With employment boosted and the green hydrogen economy set to scale up, the UK government is confident that significant private investments will be made to develop and grow this economy. For comparison, over the 2010s the UK leveraged around £47 billion of investment into the offshore wind industry – this was almost half of the entire European investment in the wind sector.
To maximise investment and growth of the UK’s green hydrogen industry, the government will also realise export opportunities for British-made hydrogen. They will aim to work with countries that also have a long-established high-carbon sector, e.g. oil and gas, and assist them in transitioning to zero-carbon through hydrogen investment.
With these plans in place, the UK positions itself as a future world leader in versatile green energy, setting a shining example on the international stage.
- Jack Starr