Energy Department Selects San Francisco to Help Lead Adoption of Hydrogen Vehicles

Business  /   /  By Bradley Berman

The US Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced last week that San Francisco was selected as the first so-called climate action champion to pursue hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. The selection of San Francisco—a city and county known for its early adoption of eco-friendly technologies—reveals the importance of focusing early deployment of hydrogen vehicles and stations in a select number of key communities.

“Having a critical mass of interest and activity in a specific region is definitely valuable,” said Sunita Satyapal, director of fuel cell technologies for the Energy Department, in an interview with FuelCellCars.com. “That’s preferable to a scattered and diverse distribution of technologies.”

In 2014, the White House launched the Climate Action Champions Initiative—a program to recognize communities working to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased Coordination

The successful rollout of hydrogen cars essentially requires two large deployment projects to happen at the same time: the introduction of fuel cell cars to consumers and fleets—and the building of hydrogen fuel stations. That requires coordination, not only between automakers and fuel providers, but also among all related stakeholders within a given region.

“The focus is on outreach to city officials who are not aware of the advantages and opportunities with fuel-cell vehicles,” said Satyapal. “Education is the key.”

San Francisco has some of the most aggressive climate and sustainability targets in the nation. It will be on the vanguard of helping California achieve its goal of making zero emissions vehicles—including both fuel-cell and battery-electric vehicles—represent 15 percent of the new car market by 2025.

In the DOE-funded project, which will allocate about $4.5 million, the San Francisco Department of the Environment will conduct training for hydrogen and fuel cell stakeholders throughout the Bay Area. The exact roadmap and scope of work will be determined over the course of the next couple of months, but are likely to include streamlining site selection, permitting and codes related to the construction of hydrogen fueling stations.

The lion’s share of the award will go to an analysis of costs related to production, storage and delivery of hydrogen fuel. The analysis projects will be conducted by Strategic Analysis, Inc., a firm based in Arlington, Va.

San Francisco will also explore how group purchasing programs can help reduce costs. “The idea is to improve the efficiency of the supply chain, and provide the vehicles at lower cost,” said Satyapal. “And with larger volumes of vehicles, you can bundle utilization of stations.”

Groups Compare Notes

The DOE announcement last week took place during a meeting of the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy, a government partnership between 17 countries. The communities across the globe that are most actively building hydrogen infrastructure—notably in Japan and Germany as well as California—are sharing what they learn with one another. For example, Satyapal said that the US is learning about how to ensure the reliability of stations from Japan, which has deployed about 78 hydrogen stations.

The international group of about 100 participants that met in Berkeley last week took a tour of AC Transit, the local county-based public bus system. “It’s the largest fuel-cell bus fleet in North America,” said Satyapal. “AC Transit’s fuel cell buses have transported 4 million passengers to date, with a world record on durability.”

In California, there are nearly 20 hydrogen stations currently open for business. “It has been progressing really well,” said Satyapal. Only a handful of those active stations are located in Northern California; however, 14 stations are planned for deployment in the San Francisco Bay Area alone within the next two years.

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