UK government unveils hydrogen strategy

A long-awaited strategy for the UK’s burgeoning hydrogen sector will support over 9,000 new jobs, unlock billions of pounds of investment and drive decarbonisation across a range of sectors the government has claimed.

Building on commitments laid out in the UK government’s ten point green industrial revolution plan the new strategy sets out how government will work with industry to meet its ambition for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.  It claims that as much as 35 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption could be hydrogen-based by 2050.

hydrogen strategy
Hydrogen could be used to help decarbonise a range of different sectors. Image: j-mel via

According to a statement released ahead of publication of the full document, the government is consulting on the design of a £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, which aims to support the commercial deployment of new low carbon hydrogen production plants across the UK. Meanwhile, a hydrogen sector development action plan expected to be published in early 2022 will set out government support for supply chain opportunities, skills and jobs in hydrogen.

The sector’s growth is expected to be supported through an approach similar to the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme used for the wind sector, which protects developers and consumers from cost volatility.

Other measures outlined include a so-called twin-track approach to supporting both ‘green’ electrolytic and ‘blue’ carbon capture-enabled hydrogen production, and collaborating with industry to develop a UK standard for low carbon hydrogen.

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As previously reported by The Engineer, the scale-up of technologies for producing so-called green hydrogen (i.e. hydrogen produced using renewably powered electrolysers) will be particularly important if the gas is to deliver on its low carbon promise.

And some have voiced concern that an over reliance on blue hydrogen, which is produced using natural gas, could undermine the sector's decarbonising potential. Indeed, a recent study conducted by researchers at Stanford and Cornell university in the US suggests that "fugitive" greenhouse gas emissions from CCS enabled blue hydrogen production plants could mean that blue hydrogen is worse for the environment than simply burning fossil fuels.

Nevertheless, Initial industry reaction to the strategy has been broadly positive.

CBI policy director Matthew Fell called it a key milestone in the delivery of the 10 point plan that will help the UK capitalise on the opportunities presented by hydrogen, whilst National Grid’s hydrogen director Anthony Green welcomed the clarity it provides, saying “unlocking the potential of hydrogen as a clean energy solution requires significant pace and innovation to scale up production, and the guidance from government today will be key to triggering the investment and buy-in needed to achieve this.”

Dr Graham Cooley, CEO of leading UK electrolyser manufacturer ITM Power, added: “Today’s announcement is a very welcome step in helping British companies cement their positions as world leaders in hydrogen technology.”

Others have sounded a more cautious note. “Considering the miniscule amount of hydrogen we use for energy today the challenge is huge,” said Prof Rob Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre and Professor of Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College. “As well as figuring out how to make lots of clean hydrogen much more cheaply we will also need to decide where to use it first, and importantly, where we can manage without it. The strategy makes a start on all of that but there is a long, long way to go”.