There’s a running joke among some technology skeptics: “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future,” they say, “and it always will be.” However, the engineers, safety professionals, and policy makers who have worked to make hydrogen-fueled transportation a reality for more than two decades are getting the final word. Their message is simple: the future is here.
Achieving California’s Climate Goals
Saturday, October 8 marks the second annual National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day, a celebration of all things hydrogen-powered. In California, nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from transportation. Producing 60% less overall emissions than conventional gas vehicles (and second only to pure battery electric (EVs) in GHG reduction), fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are poised to play a crucial role in meeting the state’s air quality and climate change goals. This became particularly true at the end of August 2016, when State legislators passed Senate Bill 32, establishing strong targets to reduce GHG emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Part of the State of California’s plan for reaching these goals is to build a strong, well-connected hydrogen fueling network by funding construction of 100 hydrogen stations. Already, 21 stations are operating in California, and as of last spring, one of those is located on the Central Coast.
CEC’s Push for Central Coast Hydrogen
It will take a wide range of alternative fuels to transition our community and the world away from carbon intensive fossil fuels, and hydrogen is a key player. CEC is working closely with a project team to produce a “Hydrogen Readiness Plan” for the Tri-Counties, which will provide a crucial foundation for siting and constructing additional hydrogen fueling stations in the region. The team includes the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), UC Irvine’s Advanced Energy and Power Program, the Ventura County and San Luis Obispo County APCDs, Central Coast Clean Cities Coalition, and Energy Independence Now. The group is also working closely with local officials and experts in the industry, such as Toyota and First Element. To date, the planning efforts have included identifying high-priority areas for new hydrogen fueling stations and developing a resource guide to support streamlined planning and permitting of new hydrogen fueling stations along the Central Coast.
The plan celebrated an early success this year with the opening of the Central Coast’s first hydrogen fueling station. Working with the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, CEC ushered in the new station on La Cumbre Road in Santa Barbara with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured more than 10 FCEVs. Recognizing the importance of this first hydrogen fueling stop between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the event was attended by dozens of officials and community members. The press gave widespread media coverage, including local reports from Noozhawk and KCLU.
Car Companies Doing Their Part
Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai are already offering FCEVs for lease and sale. Audi, Chevy, Nissan, and Honda have announced plans for new hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the coming years.
However, beyond building fueling infrastructure, the affordability of FCEVs is the largest challenge standing in the way of widespread adoption – an issue that groups at the state and federal level, as well as automobile manufacturers themselves, are working to address. Tax breaks and cash rebates are potential solutions. Currently, drivers who purchase an FCEV may be eligible for federal tax incentives of up to $8,000 and a California rebate of $5,000. On the manufacturer side, Toyota committed to covering $15,000 of fueling costs in the first three years for those who purchase the Mirai. They also recently reduced the monthly leasing price for the vehicle.
The Potential of Hydrogen
As the author of a recent LA Times article put it, “The world’s car companies are all reaching for the same holy grail: a good-running, zero-emissions vehicle that has a long driving range. And is affordable. And can be refueled quickly.” The hydrogen fuel cell technology appears to be hitting these marks. According to the EPA, Toyota’s Mirai can travel 312 miles, outpacing the 267 miles of the longest range EV, Tesla Model S. FCEVs also fuel up in 3 to 5 minutes versus the ½ hour to 8 hours it takes to recharge an all-electric vehicle.
With figures like this, FCEVs can complement EVs in the marketplace by offering a zero-emission vehicle to drivers who need a larger automobile, greater range, or faster refueling. They also provide a viable clean fuel option for those who live in situations where home charging is not an option, including those in apartments and other rental units.
There is still a long road ahead when it comes to bringing hydrogen fuel cells into the mainstream, but momentum is building and progress in our region is promising. In fact, planning and permitting is already underway for another hydrogen fueling station in Thousand Oaks. To learn more about fuel cell vehicles and their potential for moving California toward its climate goals, visit http://cafcp.org/.