Originally published April 23rd, 2013
“The challenges for fuel cell vehicles in the long run appear to be entirely on the infrastructure side… we have to begin to invest in that infrastructure now, as the advance placement of infrastructure is critical to the market acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.”
-John German, ICCT Sr. Fellow
Transitioning the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet
A recent U.S. National Research Council report on light-duty (cars and small trucks) vehicle technologies discussed the feasibility of reaching two goals:
50% petroleum reduction in 2030
80% petroleum and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in 2050
This reduction goal is measured against a 2005 baseline, and researchers concluded that with the right policy incentives, combination of vehicle technologies, and added infrastructure for those technologies, it is possible to achieve these targets.
The study considered multiple policy options in modeling the outcomes of potential technology mixes, and considered purchasing prices and energy efficiencies – two major factors that affect market acceptance. Newer technologies like compressed natural gas and battery (BEV), plug-in (PHEV), or fuel cell (FCEV) electric have higher initial costs. However, long-term assessments show that BEVs and FCEVs become less expensive than both internal combustion vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles.
Reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic drag, and tire rolling resistance, has a greater effect on lowering costs for BEVs and FCEVs than for conventional vehicles. In the long run, FCEVs are shown to be significantly better than conventional vehicles, with cheaper purchase prices, comparable range and refill times, higher efficiency, better drivability, and better space utilization of drive train components.
The major challenge to high-volume FCEV production, which is the assumption made in the above predictions, is infrastructure. John German, the ICCT Senior Fellow who headed the subcommittee that analyzed alternative vehicle technologies, explained that while predicting technology development may be highly uncertain, the investment into infrastructure must begin NOW.
Addressing this challenge, EIN currently leads a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a network-level plan for hydrogen infrastructure deployment in California. If successfully implemented, it will serve as a blueprint for market introduction at national and international levels. This plan will establish a clear pathway to market success for the infrastructure needed to support commercial levels of hydrogen FCEVs.
According to the NRC study only three potential scenarios could meet or exceed the goals of 50% petroleum reduction in 2030 and 80% GHG reduction in 2050; all three of those scenarios require significant market penetration of FCEVs. The first is based on optimistic assumptions for FCEV technology, and the other two both require PHEV and FCEV market success.
By modeling a policy-induced transition to hydrogen FCEVs by 2050, the study estimated a net present value of around $1 trillion. This scenario assumes both $6 billion annual subsidies through the mid-2020s and 500 geographically clustered hydrogen-refueling stations (subsidized or mandated) by 2016. In other words, the long-term benefits far outweigh the nearer-term costs associated with a transition to FCEVs.
FCEV adoption has both private and social benefits. Private benefits include consumer fuel savings, satisfaction with vehicle purchases, and satisfaction with fuel purchases. Social benefits include reductions in GHG emissions and petroleum use – in this scenario, petroleum consumption could be reduced by about 90-96% and GHG emissions by 59-80%.
Vehicle sales by vehicle technology for midrange technologies and policies promoting the adoption and use of PHEVs, FCEVs, and biofuels.
The study goes on to state that for hydrogen FCEVs, advance placement of fueling infrastructure is critical to market acceptance, as the availability of refueling stations directly affects consumer demand. It is clear that a coordinated effort is essential to achieving petroleum and GHG reductions goals – and it is even more clear that investments in and development of such infrastructure must occur early on in the transition.
Find out more about EIN’s work with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure here.