California must invest in hydrogen infrastructure to meet zero-emission goals

Assemblymember Bill Quirk, Assemblymember Autumn Burke: San Francisco Chronicle
Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order declaring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in this state be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. That vision is in step with much of the world; most industrial nations, including Germany, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, have also committed to eliminating gas-powered vehicles within the next 15 to 20 years.
We are excited about what this means for our environment and climate crisis. However, it’s essential that policies, plans and production must not rely on a single technology. For all communities to truly participate in this exciting advancement, diversity in technologies will be necessary.
Among the items outlined in the governor’s budget proposal is $1 billion to increase the pace and scale of the construction of electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling stations. Investment in both technologies is critical toward a carbon-free future. However, this infrastructure needs to be equally divided between hydrogen fueling stations and electric vehicle charging.
Both of these technologies are essential to meet the needs of all consumers and assure public acceptance. An equitable investment is essential in creating a self-sufficient fueling network to support not only passenger vehicles but trucks and buses.
We want to make the case for why the state needs to pay more attention to hydrogen.
First, although there have been vast improvements in batteries, the limited range of battery electric vehicles and the time it takes to recharge restrict their utility. For large trucks and delivery vans hauling freight long distances, batteries are not a suitable alternative to fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
Second, access to a charging station in a garage is a challenge for most. Drivers who do not have their own garage find that recharging batteries overnight is not an option. For those who own their own garages, the cost to upgrade the electrical system to accommodate charging can be prohibitive. Most apartment buildings do not have the needed wiring that would allow chargers at all parking places.
In addition, to accommodate charging multiple cars at the same time, electric utilities would have to install new higher-capacity transformers for the apartment buildings. Fuel cell vehicles can be refueled quickly and can be used for long trips, making them a great option for families.
Third, the infrastructure needed to serve fuel cell vehicles has a much smaller footprint than that needed to serve battery vehicles. Each hydrogen station can support several thousand vehicles without requiring new electrical grid infrastructure and associated costs are not at the expense of the ratepayers.
Not only are hydrogen-powered vehicles more driver-friendly, they also provide the environmental benefits of battery-fueled vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity; their only emission is water vapor. The hydrogen fuel supply can become 100% carbon-free by using renewable energy to separate hydrogen from water molecules.
For all of these reasons, many car makers, including Toyota, Hyundai and Honda, have invested billions in putting hydrogen-fueled cars on the market.
We are at the doorstep of an exciting new era of transportation, and California is poised to lead. The Legislature can advance that leadership by embracing the vision of deploying twin technologies to move us forward. Doing so will allow all communities the opportunity to participate in this environmental progress.
Assembly Member Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, worked as a climate change scientist at NASA and was the country’s expert on foreign nuclear weapons at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory before being elected to represent the 20th Assembly District. Assembly Member Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood (Los Angeles County), is an entrepreneur who has worked to provide pathways to green technology and energy efficiency for disadvantaged communities.