Recently, I talked to Bill Elrick, Executive Director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, about the growth in the hydrogen fuel cell market in the state and what the future holds. Following are several excepts from our discussion, which you can listen to or download below or in ITunes.
“The California Fuel Cell Partnership started twenty years ago this year with eight original members. We are celebrating a big anniversary this year. The original mission was brought together by eight entities of state, federal, local government, auto makers and energy developers looking at the zero emission vehicle regulation here in California and wondering if hydrogen and fuel cells could be a viable opportunity to help support that regulation. So the first few years were dedicated to really that science experiment of looking at the technology and how it might play out. Maybe a decade or so ago it started to shift as the answer was yes, the technology’s viable and looking to could it be commercially viable; meaning could it be something that would be sustainable and marketable and provide everyone from customers to government to industry the benefits equally or at least throughout. The answer there was yes and so back in 2012 we worked on launching the market, really the beginning steps of where hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles are today.
That was again another point of success where the market, I can now happily say, is open, you can both lease and purchase fuel cell vehicles. You can go to retail stations and within use your credit card, fuel in a matter of minutes and be on your way for hundreds of miles just like in today’s combustion engine world. Where we are today is in that the market we recognize that the market wasn’t developing quickly enough. Meaning how do we get through this valley of death to reap all the benefits: environment, economic and energy benefits that the technology can produce. So we put out a new document last year that’s our 2030 vision it’s an image of the self sustaining market. So now we are busy working on the specific actions to achieve that vision such as developing the network, the hydrogen production and then the market policies that really encourage the private investment to make this happen.”
“Infrastructure is our biggest challenge for hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles. The vehicle technology, while still nascent is developing rapidly and the handful of vehicles that are on the market now, really can replace a combustion vehicle. We have sedans and SUVs that fill quickly, they have the range that a combustion vehicle does. But that’s only if the infrastructure is there. So our biggest challenge is we have to recreate a hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support the technology. So most of our efforts are around that and getting to a scale development. We have 39 stations open today, but we have 8000 or more gasoline stations and they provide such a wonderful network for us to use and get around. We have to start moving up to the point where that similar capability and value to the customer is there.”
“As the other energy carrier, electricity, and hydrogen together are going to do things we can’t even imagine right now. We take the ubiquitous availability of electricity at a socket near us. We carry around all kinds of gadgets that are powered by electricity. I think we are going to see, without too far into the future, we’re going to see hydrogen play an accelerating and maybe equal role because they are complimentary. Electricity and hydrogen play very well together; they have complimentary pros and cons. I think that’s where our education, and our actions have to start moving toward — policies that look not just how to bring the transportation side of hydrogen and fuel cells to market, but these other ways that can augment each other so that what we are doing in transportation helps the grid and vice versa.”