Opinion

For job growth, boost hydrogen infrastructure

A bus at UC Irvine powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. (Photo: Rhonda Roth

As California charts its course toward a sustainable recovery from a pandemic-caused recession, policymakers have committed to maintaining its air-quality and clean-energy goals.

Just last week the California Air Resources Board adopted the world’s first zero-emission commercial truck requirement. In conjunction with the state’s zero-emission bus requirement for transit agencies and zero emission vehicle requirements for passenger vehicles, the state will require smart policies that leverage private investment to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to support these goals.

Yet California lags behind as a state – even while the federal government is poised to add powerful incentives to hydrogen vehicle development.

As it helps draft a strategy for recovery, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery should look to the role that hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles can play in achieving all that, just as other governments around the world are doing.

In recent weeks, Germany announced an investment of $10.1 billion in hydrogen, including a massive infusion of funds for filling stations for zero emission vehicles.

China has plans to roll out one million hydrogen vehicles and to expand its hydrogen infrastructure network by adding 1,000 stations by 2030. It also recently announced a stimulus package for hydrogen vehicles worth $17 billion by 2023.

Japan’s public funding of hydrogen amounted to €500 million in 2019 alone. It has around 120 hydrogen stations. Its goal is to build a network of 900 stations by 2030 to encourage the mass-market commercialization of the next generation of hydrogen vehicles (800,000 by 2030).

Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, France and Australia are moving quickly to build a hydrogen economy.

Yet California lags behind as a state – even while the federal government is poised to add powerful incentives to hydrogen vehicle development. This week, a key Congressional committee passed the “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act” with incentives for hydrogen infrastructure development.

Members of the California Hydrogen Coalition understand how economic recovery and greenhouse-gas reduction can work in concert. Our industry has spent billions bringing to market heavy, medium, and light duty zero-emission fuel cell vehicles and advancing the production, distribution, and sale of hydrogen fuel.

Because fuel cell vehicles have a range when fully fueled similar to that of gas-powered vehicles, they are the only zero-emission vehicle of practical use to consumers who face long commutes or require rapid refueling. Because fuel cell vehicles can be refueled quickly, they make possible the efficient operation of zero-emission transit, trucking and delivery fleets.

Promoting environmental equity, fuel cell vehicles are also the only practical zero-emissions option for Californians who are limited to on-street parking, live in apartments or older housing or have no daily charging access.

In addition, hydrogen fueling stations will help ensure a more reasonable transition from fossil fuels, as they make it possible for existing fueling stations and convenience stores – predominantly small, minority-owned businesses – to continue to thrive across all California communities.

At relatively small expense, the state could pursue policies that would unlock additional billions more in private-sector hydrogen investment.

Establishing a working market for hydrogen powered fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen fueling outlets would create an entirely new industry, generating substantial economic activity and helping to ensure that climate goals are met in every California community. The success of the hydrogen industry in California, and its contributions to meeting the state’s clean-energy goals, is primarily dependent on getting hydrogen fueling stations built and enabling hydrogen fuel to be produced as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

To achieve that objective, the Task Force should recommend that California commit to a goal of establishing 1,000 hydrogen fueling stations by 2030 that will cover 94 percent of the state. Support for that goal will spur more than $2 billion in private investment, creating a viable new industry and providing the state with a 16-1 return on its modest investment.

We encourage Governor Newsom and the legislature to undertake an effort to identify how best to grow this industry that promises a successful transition to zero emission transportation for all communities at a time when, more than ever, every dollar counts.

Editor’s Note: 
Teresa Cooke is the Executive Director of the California Hydrogen Coalition. Follow the Coalition on Twitter: @HydrogenCA


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