The cost of building a hydrogen fueling infrastructure is an often debated subject. Critics say the costs are too high especially when only a few number of vehicles have been built. Carmakers say they don’t want to built more cars until an infrastructure is in place in which to refuel their cars. This is called the classic “chicken and the egg” syndrome.
Most of the hydrogen fueling infrastructure to date is located in California. A couple of days after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced a cut in the number of hydrogen vehicles required by automakers, a hydrogen refueling station was opened in Sacramento, making it California’s 25th such station. Ten other refueling stations are planned and so far four stations have been decommissioned. This year CARB is offering $7.7 million in funding for the building of new hydrogen fueling stations in California.
But, the question remains, will there be any takers for this offer? According to CAH2NET, “The challenges encountered in 2007 generally stem from a lack of interest in State incentives on the part of traditional fuel providers due to perceived challenges of contracting with the State. Unfortunately, none of the major energy companies involved in the CaH2Net or with hydrogen activities in the State opted to respond to program incentives for developing hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California.”
So, if government regulators can refrain from over-regulating this fledgling industry and instead offer decent incentives to aid in its growth, how much will rolling out a hydrogen infrastructure nationwide cost? The high estimates come from a 2002 report by the Argonne National Laboratory where they state the costs will be upwards of $500 billion for such a rollout.
Other estimates are far lower, however. The Rocky Mountain Institute has projected costs for a nationwide rollout to be in the neighborhood of $4.1 billion for decentralized stations. Obviously, there is a large disparity between these numbers.
One of the sticking points may be the number of pumps required. Do we need to replace gasoline pumps with hydrogen pumps on a 1 to 1 ratio or will another number work, especially in the beginning as hydrogen cars are first starting to be adopted.
In California, for instance there are over 9,500 retail gasoline stations, but some public agencies are calling for as few as 500 hydrogen stations (the same amount as current diesel stations) needed to cover the state. If only 500 stations are needed then the total cost for those stations would be around $126 million.
Larry Burns of General Motors has a different take on how much it will cost for a nationwide rollout of hydrogen fueling stations. According to Burns, “A network of 12,000 hydrogen stations in the United States would put 70 percent of the U.S. population within two miles of a fueling station. If the stations cost $2 million each (estimates for the cost of a station range from $1 million to $4 million) the network would cost about $24 billion.”
These current estimates are more in line with today’s realities than those made in 2002. And, just consider this. Even if the $500 billion estimate from 2002 was accurate, right now we have spent $509 billion on the Iraq War with the costs climbing every second.
For this price tag, we could have avoided a war and been driving on a national hydrogen transportation system today. So, the future of hydrogen cars is not as far off or as costly as some would make it seem. It’s just a matter or priorities and political will. Whether or not we have a political leader who is willing to step to the plate to make hydrogen happen is something that remains to be seen.