California’s Hydrogen Station Deployment Ramps Up

Stations  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

There are, today, 10 hydrogen refueling stations open in the state of California—in Coalinga, Costa Mesa, Diamond Bar, La Canada Flintridge, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Monica, University of California Irvine, West Los Angeles and West Sacramento.

That’s not a lot of stations for a big state in the hydrogen vanguard, but what has been a fairly slow rollout is now accelerating, says California Fuel Cell Partnership (CAFCP) spokesman Keith Malone. He said “more than 50” stations (40 of them retail operations accessible with a credit card) will be open by the end of the year, with the full 100 envisioned in California Assembly Bill 8 fully operational by 2018. Yes, that’s behind schedule—40 stations were supposed to be open by the end of 2015.

But deployment is now on track. “Everybody is committed to getting the stations open—it’s all hands on deck,” Malone said. Some delays were caused by the California State Weights and Measures division, which was slow to develop a protocol for hydrogen fuelers. Another big reason, Malone added, is the permitting process, which is handled locally, often by officials who don’t know much about hydrogen.

To ease the process, CAFCP has brought in automaker experts to meet with host cities, tried to ease the permitting process with useful information on standards and codes, and has held train-the-trainer safety workshops for first responders.

“Hearing what the automakers are doing, and understanding their deployment plans, helps towns and cities to take us seriously in ways they haven’t before,” Malone said.

A regularly refreshed map of current California stations deployment is here. When the 100 units are up and running, the whole state will be accessible to fuel-cell car drivers. The concentrations of stations will be in South Orange County (including Irvine and Newport Beach), Los Angeles County, Los Angeles South Bay (including Torrance), Silicon Valley and Berkeley.

And that’s not all. Connector and destination stations enabling longer drives from the areas above will be in Napa/Sonoma, Lake Tahoe and Santa Barbara. San Diego and Sacramento are also slated for additional hydrogen stations.

And 100 stations is not necessarily an end point. Further state funding is possible, provided a convincing case is made. The state’s assumption, however, is that a robust hydrogen network statewide—in conjunction with accelerating car sales—will release further private funding. The state also has several non-retail stations operating now, in Emeryville, Fountain Valley, Harbor City, Newport Beach, Richmond and Torrance.

California’s state government sees fuel-cell cars as part of the solution to clearing the smoggy skies. The powerful California Air Resources Board has set an ambitious goal of halving the state’s gasoline use by 2030.

A new Union of Concerned Scientists analysis concludes that the state’s goal is actually achievable, with contributions from existing policies and regulations (24 percent); alternative fueled vehicles (17 percent); vehicle efficiency (seven percent); and smart mobility and land use (two percent).

Between 2007 and 2013, California oil use declined 15 percent. California has nearly half of all battery electric vehicle registrations across the U.S., and virtually all of the fuel-cell cars (though that will change as East Coast station deployment begins this year.)

As of February 1, 136 hydrogen-powered cars had received $5,000 state rebates in California, for a total of $602,500. Hyundai this week announced a milestone—more than a million miles accumulated on nearly 100 Tucson fuel-cell cars, all on Southern California roadways.

“We are pleased to see the evolving hydrogen infrastructure developing in California and appreciate the great support the State of California has provided to make this happen,” says Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. “Now is the time to begin looking at the next markets for commercial fuel cell electric vehicles and laying the groundwork for future infrastructure investments.”

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