Hydrogen

Hydrogen plays a role in every net zero scenario as it emits no greenhouse gases at the point of combustion. It is key to ensuring flexibility and security of supply. 

 

Key insights

Hydrogen supply in 2050 
 

Hydrogen - Key insights

 

The supply and use of hydrogen are both central to all of our net zero scenarios, and it has a key role to play in helping the UK achieve net zero by 2050. It can be stored over long periods and can provide the low carbon, high-intensity heat needed for some applications. But before it can reach its full potential, there are challenges around its production and transportation.
 

  • Hydrogen generation is needed in all net zero scenarios to provide electricity at times of peak electrical demand.

  • Storage capacity is as important as production facilities to get the most benefit from hydrogen.

  • The production of hydrogen via electrolysis helps to maximise the use of renewable electricity generation. Electrolysis can use surplus electricity to produce hydrogen or operate at times of network congestion. The resulting hydrogen can be transported for immediate use or stored for later.

  • Government intervention is required to help build production facilities and encourage demand for hydrogen. This is assumed to happen in System Transformation and Leading the Way. Specifically, in Leading the Way we have assumed that Government support ensures the Energy White Paper target of 5GW production capacity by 2030 is met.

  •  By 2045 in System Transformation the nationwide gas grid is almost all converted to transport hydrogen. However, in the other net zero scenarios only parts of the gas grid are still in use.

  •  Biomass gasification to produce hydrogen, combined with carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) for the CO2 emitted, makes up almost 10% of supply in System Transformation. Even at this level, the carbon stored is enough to offset the carbon emissions from methane reformation, meaning the production of hydrogen in System Transformation is carbon negative.

 

Where are we now?

There are various methods of producing hydrogen, but almost all UK hydrogen production uses methane reformation without CCUS, resulting in an annual carbon footprint of 7.7 MtCO2e. In the government’s 2020 Energy White Paper, there are plans for further trials of hydrogen in the 2020s. It has set a target of 5 GW of clean (i.e. low or zero carbon) hydrogen production capacity by 2030, initially for use either in industrial processes or transportation. More details on the Government’s plans for hydrogen will be outlined in its hydrogen strategy, due later in 2021.

 

Scenario overviews – hydrogen supply

As explored in the Consumer View chapter, hydrogen could address many of the hardest parts of the transition to net zero.

Consumer Transformation

 Hydrogen Overviews CT


The route to 2050

Consumer Transformation has the least amount of hydrogen out of the three net zero scenarios and uses electricity for heating where feasible. This means the focus is on using renewable electricity to produce hydrogen, particularly when it would otherwise be switched off. By 2035, the cost of electrolysis has dropped, due to lower wholesale power prices, so that it is cheaper to use than reforming methane. Nuclear energy combined with electrolysis is introduced in the 2030s.

What does 2050 look like?

Green hydrogen from renewable electricity makes up 70% of total supply in 2050, with 23% coming from methane reformation with CCUS. The hydrogen produced using excess renewable energy is stored until it is needed later, for example in peak demand when it is used in power stations. Hydrogen is also used in sectors where electrification is not possible or cost-effective: industrial applications, shipping and road haulage. The electrolysers are located close to demand, so the gas network is not converted to transport hydrogen. There may be some localised areas close to the reformation facilities, where the gas network is converted or even expanded to transport hydrogen to heat homes and buildings, but this is not widespread.
 

System Transformation

Hydrogen Overviews ST


The route to 2050

Government support for hydrogen is strong from the mid-2020s so supply and demand grow quickly over the 2030s. Industrial clusters start the transition, where blue hydrogen is produced. The first two will have hydrogen supplies by 2026 and the following two by 2030. As these industrial hubs are connected to the gas supply and production infrastructure, hydrogen can be transported around the country easily and the carbon captured can also be transported to its storage location. A strategy for rolling out hydrogen to the rest of the gas network is developed, beginning with some distribution networks converting in the 2030s for later connection to the national gas transmission. Most of the conversion work has been completed by 2045.

What does 2050 look like?

Over 70% of hydrogen in 2050 comes from methane reformation with green hydrogen, nuclear and biomass gasification providing additional volumes. The use of biomass with CCUS contributes 10% in 2050. We assume this is a commercially attractive way to produce hydrogen because there will be payments for negative emissions, and it offsets the use of methane for hydrogen production. So, in System Transformation, biomass is prioritised for gasification over BECCS for power generation, as hydrogen demand is high. 

As hydrogen will mainly be meeting heating demand, significant seasonal storage will be needed to ensure sufficient supply for winter peak and to maximise the use of green hydrogen, made using surplus renewable generation. This will be stored primarily in salt caverns, and we expect 51 TWh of stored hydrogen to be available by 2050. Post-2050, assuming costs reduce, we could see more electrolysis for hydrogen in this scenario, as it replaces methane reformation plant.

Leading the Way

Hydrogen Overviews LW


The route to 2050

With swift decarbonisation as the primary goal, we expect hydrogen production capacity to be built over the 2020s with Government support to reach the 5GW target. Electrolysers will be built near where electricity comes to shore to avoid increasing network constraints, with these facilities including a local hydrogen transport network for heating, either with hydrogen boilers or using a hybrid solution with a heat pump. Offshore electrolysers will be also be built alongside wind farms in the 2030s, so that hydrogen is transported to shore rather than electricity. 

We have also assumed that there is a similar approach around the world, so that there is a global market for hydrogen by 2040 and it can be imported. Leading the Way is the scenario with the second largest supply but none of it from the continued extraction of fossil fuels.

What does 2050 look like?

Demand for hydrogen comes from a mix of heating and industrial needs as well as road transport, shipping and aviation. This scenario makes maximum use of electrolysis. Onshore electrolysers are connected directly to the electricity transmission system to produce hydrogen for use or storage locally or to be transported elsewhere. Offshore electrolysis uses floating electrolysers to produce hydrogen, which is then piped to shore, using the offshore gas pipelines or new infrastructure where needed. Hydrogen will also be produced from a limited amount of biomass gasification, with most bioresource used for electricity.
 

Steady Progression

 Hydrogen Overviews SP


The route to 2050

Without a clear strategy from the Government, there is a lack of demand for hydrogen in Steady Progression and no driver to create a hydrogen transmission network. However, projects such as HyDeploy have shown that up to 20% of hydrogen blends can be used in the gas network without significant effects on appliances. So, we have assumed this route has been taken in Steady Progression to reduce the carbon impact of the supply of natural gas to homes and buildings for heating. This hydrogen comes from methane reformation with CCUS, with the first production and storage facility being built in the mid-2030s.

What does 2050 look like?

In 2050, natural gas is still being supplied to heat homes and buildings, but it is mixed with 20% hydrogen (by volume) – approximately 52 TWh per year. This reduces the carbon impact of natural gas combustion. Hydrogen is not used in other applications.