CEC Continues Steady Push for Hydrogen

2 Jul 2020

The California Energy Commission’s continued funding for research and development to create emissions-free hydrogen fuel for transportation and energy storage is beginning to show results. 

“Adoption is happening, but the supply is thin,” Wayne Leighty with Shell Energy said during a July 2 California Energy Commission workshop. “Don’t worry about getting it right, but getting it started.”

As in all early stage markets, there are economic, technical and operational challenges for hydrogen. But speakers said the stable market and CEC investments are helping overcome those. Hydrogen is a costly fuel but its fueling pumps are far faster than fast electric vehicle chargers. Hydrogen fuel also provides more power.

Much of the hydrogen infrastructure currently in place serves industry. Growth in the sector now is focused on hydrogen fueling stations for vehicles to help decarbonize transportation.

Today, there are about 8,000 hydrogen-fueled cars in California.

State law requires the installation or 200 fueling stations by 2030.

The Energy Commission has funded Shell’s installation of 800 chargers across the state, and another 39 stations by First Element, as well as others.

First Element’s initial 20 stations have resulted in 113,000 fewer gas miles traveled and a decrease of 71 million pounds of CO2, according to the company’s Shane Stephens. He added that about 80% of the fuel is produced by renewables, with 100% in reach with the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

California and the Energy Commission were praised for providing steady policy and financial support for hydrogen fuels, including grants and incentives from the California Air Resources Board under its Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The state promotes a supply of “green” hydrogen, which is produced by splitting water–or electrolysis–using energy from renewable power. The most economical way to produce green hydrogen is from large offshore wind facilities, which the state has yet to see.

China is the biggest hydrogen market, using the fuel for trucks and buses. “China has found a niche that makes the most competitive sense,” Dave Edward with Air Liquide and the Hydrogen Council said.

China uses both fossil-derived and green hydrogen, although the latter currently costs up to five times more. But the cost of the two should be on par within 10 years, which will allow green hydrogen’s market share to expand, according to Xiating Wang with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Hydrogen fuel can replace natural gas and be stored in salt caverns and rocky formations. Building hydrogen pipeline infrastructure is costly but planning in necessary, advocates said. The gas also can be used in fuel cells, power turbines and in buildings for heating.

Commissioner Patty Monahan wanted to know how California could spur other nations to invest in clean hydrogen fuels.

Other countries have taken the lead from California since its first big promotion of hydrogen in 2008. That was when gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to convert his Hummer to hydrogen and as governor promoted a “Hydrogen Highway” that did not happen.

China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, which has invested 9 billion Euros, and the European Union are moving forward more aggressively and broadly, Monahan was told. In addition, a 20 MW hydrogen-producing station in Quebec will be fueled by hydropower.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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