Hydrogen-fuelled vehicles – better than EVs for island economies

With so much innovation going into battery-powered vehicles (EVs), how can hydrogen-fuelled vehicles compete?

In this Guardian article, hydrogen-vehicle innovator Hugo Spowers makes the case that recharging EVs at scale requires an impractical amount of new infrastructure spend. Consider a motorway services where thousands of cars would need to recharge their cars every hour. First you need a charging point for each car (where they’ll spend a good half hour recharging). More important, Spowers says, you’d need a 14.4 mW substation too – equivalent to powering 32,000 homes.

Compare that to hydrogen, where:

  1. Refueling would take no longer than with petrol or diesel, so you don’t need hundreds of new refueling points
  2. Converting petrol/diesel storage and pumps to hydrogen isn’t a big deal
  3. It’s not a stretch to convert the existing petrol/diesel supply chain to hydrogen
  4. There’s no extra stress on the grid (and we already have a massive challenge to replace the existing coal and gas with renewables).

But the main thing? Building hydrogen vehicles is way cheaper and less energy-intensive than building EVs, reducing their carbon footprint in two more ways (we don’t need to work so long to afford them and less energy gets used making them).

The obvious counter-argument is that while I can, in theory, recharge my EV pretty much anywhere I can find an electric socket, refueling my HV relies on a nearby hydrogen refueling station. And until there’s a nationwide network, I’m not going to bite.

Spowers has a good David-vs-Goliath story going. But perhaps he should also be talking to the governments of (smallish) islands – or the managers of island-based resorts. On an island, any car owner is within easy reach of any particular refueling point, and it’s a fairly simple task to get a shipment of hydrogen to that point too. By keeping the supply chain external, you don’t need to swamp a small landscape with wind, solar and storage (because you need all three to guarantee your energy supply). Start small, prove the utility, then move on to the mainland.

Another big plus for hydrogen? It’s also a great option for the sunnier oil-producing nations facing a dwindling demand for their core export. For places like Libya and Saudi Arabia to export solar energy, they’d need to join up with the European grid. Far easier to produce hydrogen from solar energy and water – and then just ship it.