The Hydrogen Solution

RHINECLIFF, NY – Around the world, governments and businesses are constantly being called upon to make big investments in solar, wind, and geothermal energy, as well as biofuels. But, in the United States, unlike in Europe and Asia, discussion of hydrogen energy and fuel cells as systemic, game-changing technologies is largely absent. That needs to change: these clean, renewable energy sources promise not only zero-emission baseload power, but also a zero-emission fuel for cars and trucks, the biggest polluters of them all.

By now, many have heard about plans by big carmakers – including Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai – to launch hydrogen fuel-cell cars commercially around 2015. Daimler, Ford, and Nissan plan to launch such cars around 2017. Germany plans to build at least 50 hydrogen fueling stations by 2015 as the start of a countrywide network. Japan and Korea have announced similar plans.

But a bigger, largely unreported, message is that some European countries, especially Germany, have launched projects that combine renewables like solar and wind with hydrogen for energy storage, implying clean, zero-emission, stable power grids that require no coal, oil, or nuclear power.

Indeed, the bottom line of a new study by two American researchers, Willett Kempton and Cory Budischak, is that the combination of renewables and hydrogen storage could fully power a large electricity grid by 2030 at costs comparable to those today. Kempton and Budischak designed a computer model for wind, solar, and storage to meet demand for one-fifth of the US grid. The results buck “the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” says Kempton. “For example,” according to Budischak, “using hydrogen for storage, we can run an electric system that today would meet a need of 72 gigawatts, 99.9 % of the time, using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of inland wind.”