100% Renewable Energy: Hydrogen Refueling -vs- Superchargers

hydrogen

Hydrogen pairs well economically with 100% renewable energy like wind, solar, and biogas for fast recharging of zero emission vehicles like cars, trucks, busses, trains, & boats.  Wind & solar can have large footprints that make them hard to site near areas where there are large populations of people or where large scale refueling/recharging must take place.  RMP has written many times about how solar arrays & wind farms can often produce terawatts of energy each year that go wasted because the electricity produced couldn’t be used when it was made.  Wasted energy stranded like this is called curtailed energy. Modern grids have to balance electricity production to usage and must choose to dump electricity if it can’t be used.  More and more projects around the world are demonstrating power to gas is an economical way to store that otherwise wasted energy as hydrogen so we can get it back whenever we need it.

One of the knocks against hydrogen refueling anti-hydrogen folks continue to use against hydrogen is to say there are only 95 hydrogen refueling stations across America compared to thousands of locations where a BEV can be fast charged.  Given we are early in the transition to electrified propulsion, it’s important to think about the overarching goal of zero emission vehicles: to use clean renewable energy to power our transportation sector & reduce harmful emissions.  Even though there are more fast charging stations than the 95 hydrogen fueling stations right now in the USA, there are already 13 hydrogen stations that use 100% renewable energy.  Contrast that to the 908 Tesla Supercharger locations across the USA open today and note that not a single one of those 908 Supercharger locations is 100% off-grid solar, wind, or biogas.  Not one.  0%.  As we kick off this article, let’s put this important statistic up on the scoreboard when it comes to the number of 100% renewable refueling/recharging locations in the USA:   Hydrogen 13 – Tesla Superchargers 0.

This important point of delivering 100% clean energy for our transportation sector is becoming increasingly more relevant as time goes by.  Advocates of zero emission vehicles have a stated goal to move away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions to zero across the board. Without a single demonstration of fast charging paired with 100% renewable solar or wind to see how it works, we are left for years now to guess how it will ever get done.  If all fast charging stations eventually need to get to 100% clean energy shouldn’t anti hydrogen folks show us the cost & footprint & specs of one station so we can see how it works?

The Shell Sacramento hydrogen refueling station is one of 13 stations in the USA that uses 100% renewable hydrogen.  Every hydrogen refueling station in California is required to use at least 33% renewable hydrogen but several across the state, including 3 stations in San Francisco are 100% renewable.  While Tesla might put a solar array on top of a Supercharger to show some electricity comes from renewable energy, don’t be fooled.  Not a single Tesla Supercharger is 100% renewable.

According to Modernize, less than a handful of states have produced better than 20% of their energy from renewable energy sources.   Many states, like New Mexico, Kansas, Utah, Indiana, Ohio, and more get over 90% of their energy from dirty fossil fuel sources like coal, oil, & natural gas.  Manufacturing & charging electric vehicles off a dirty grid isn’t making a dent in CO2 emission reductions.   When can we fast charge BEVs with clean off-grid renewable energy?  Does the possibility even exist?  Or is it still a fantasy?

Unfortunately, hydrogen & batteries get looked at as some sort of death match of competitive technologies that leave us with an either/or decision of what technology to use, but it really shouldn’t be that way.  RMP has written for years about how it’s a red herring argument to say we have to choose only one technology.  Hydrogen & batteries work very well together; we really need both technologies to phase out crude oil, coal, and natural gas.  Even though hydrogen & batteries should be thought of technologies that cooperate, it’s human nature for people to have some fun with friendly competition.  In the spirit of friendly competition, let’s look at why hydrogen refueling has a big advantage over battery charging alone when it comes to renewable energy for fast recharging. If our goal is 100% renewable energy it’s important to keep this score in mind:  Hydrogen 13 – Tesla Superchargers 0.

While there is a lot of promise for BEV vehicles for good reason, there is also an elephant in the room:  fast charging throughput is about 20:1 slower than refueling with gasoline.  Because hydrogen refueling is on par with gasoline, it means hydrogen fueling is also about 20:1 faster than the fastest Tesla Supercharging.  According to a quick Google search, it takes about 75 minutes to charge a Tesla to 100% state of charge with a 150 kW Supercharger.  It takes between 3 to 4 minutes to fill up a gasoline or hydrogen car.  75 divided by 3 = 25:1 and 75 divided by 4 = 18.75:1.  Hydrogen’s throughput capability is a big deal when scaling to millions of vehicles because it stands to reason capital allocation of renewable energy tax subsidy dollars would also be leveraged 20:1 if spent on hydrogen infrastructure.  If the goal is to refuel as many vehicles in the shortest amount of time possible on busy travel routes, hydrogen is the clear winner.  We’ve all seen the videos & read the stories about Teslas backing up at Superchargers during Thanksgiving.  So called fast charging is already showing failure with less than 1% of vehicles on the road using it; this is very bad for scaling up.

Even if we do decide to spend our tax subsidy dollars on battery recharging infrastructure at a 20:1 disadvantage vs hydrogen, we still don’t get fast charging from renewable energy because it doesn’t exist.  We don’t even know the cost of off-grid 100% renewable fast charging.  All we can say with utter certainty is that hydrogen refueling is way faster than battery charging.

Thanksgiving 2019 Supercharger backup at Kettleman City Supercharger with 40 stalls.  At times the backup was 50 cars long or a quarter mile long.  Teslas only make up a tiny fraction of cars (less than 1%) on the road and we are already seeing major fails in how they scale to handle heavy travel.  What if BEVs made up 5% or even 10% of vehicles?  Think about it.

For three years (since 6/9/2017) we’ve been waiting for the very first example of off-grid 100% renewable Supercharging.  Its starting to appear, however, that battery fast-charging just isn’t compatible with 100% renewable off-grid energy.  The best way to charge a battery with 100% renewable off-grid energy will probably be to use a fuel cell system.  The two technologies are truly meant for each other and bound to each other’s service.  Fuel cells & their battery cousins shouldn’t even be thought of in competition, but rather technologies that compliment each other.

June 9, 2020 marks the three year anniversary of Elon Musk tweeting that “All Superchargers are being converted to solar/battery power.  Over time, almost all will disconnect from the electricity grid”.   Elon Musk likes to use ambiguous words like “all” and “soon” so often that a pattern has emerged.  A growing chorus of people has started showing & tweeting examples of how Elon Musk is not much different than the Wizard of Oz: just a man shining people on with false promises from behind the curtain.  We get promises & rhetoric of all these great things coming in order to win tax subsidies & venture capital funding from Wall Street billionaires, but the promises never materialize for working class people on main street.  The mansions and private jet are real, but off-grid renewable Superchargers…  well, not so much…

Elon’s false promises are becoming so obvious websites have emerged to demonstrate how Elon Musk is shining people on in order to raise money for his billionaire lifestyle.  It’s important to stay vigilant in making sure our tax dollars are being used responsibly to further our migration from fossil fuels to renewable zero emission technology.   If our tax subsidy money is going toward a company like Tesla & the goods are not getting delivered, we need to hold that company accountable to their promises made for our tax dollars.  We need to see results.  We cannot continue to be fed constant promises that are always years away and never materialize.  We need to see real growth in the demonstration of true zero emissions or we gotta call BS.  It’s been 3 years since Elon said Superchargers were in the process of being converted to off-grid solar but still when we look up a the scoreboard it’s:  Hydrogen 13  vs Tesla Superchargers 0.

There are three major types of air pollution caused by our transportation sector:  1) Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2) NOx Emissions & 3) Sulphur Dioxide Emissions.   Further, most people want to focus on what’s called the well-to-wheel emissions meaning that we have to account for all emissions including manufacture & distribution of the energy to make the vehicle as well as the energy we use on a daily basis like coal & natural gas power plants.  For a great example of why hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are better than battery electric vehicles at overall well-to-wheel emissions, the best comparison is the new Toyota RAV4 Prime.  The RAV4 Prime in this post’s feature image is a gasoline plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).  The RAV4 Prime is a good example that demonstrates why Toyota, Honda, & Hyundai are so confident about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles working along side batteries in the future as a range extender.  While the “range extender” of the battery in the RAV4 Prime is an internal combustion engine, that “range extender” will easily be replaced by a Toyota fuel cell in markets developing hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

According to a quick Google search, the Toyota RAV4 Prime PHEV going on sale in a couple months will average about 29g of CO2 per kilometer.   The Tesla Model 3 averages about 170g of CO2 per kilometer.  This stark difference goes unnoticed by many Tesla cheerleaders in the anti-hydrogen crowd.   Let’s think about that for minute:  a full size gasoline plug-in electric hybrid SUV with off-road ruggedness & three to four minute refueling will produce nearly 6 times less CO2 than a Tesla Model 3 that takes hours to charge & can have its warranty voided if you drive down a dirt road. Furthermore, if CO2 emissions are lower in the PHEV by a factor of six, it stands to reason SOx & NOx (smog) are also reduced by a similar multiple.  The RAV4 Prime seems like a no brainer to an average consumer that wants lower emissions from overnight charging.  The RAV4 Prime also comes with no long waits at the fast charger on road trips.  The PHEV is comparable in price, has more convenience & utility, and is also the best for overall air quality.

You’d think that with such a large emissions advantage over the Tesla Model 3 that you’d have to pay an arm & a leg to buy the bigger & more functional Toyota RAV4 Prime over the smaller Tesla sedan, but you’d be wrong again.  The Toyota RAV4 Prime base model is loaded with features like All Wheel Drive, 8-way power seats, power back door, & Apple Carplay and will sticker at about $38,100.  The Tesla Model 3 standard range car stickers at $39,990 and only has a range of 250 miles.  The Toyota is also getting a tax subsidy of $7,500 off the sticker price so it’s more like $30,600 for the Toyota RAV4 Prime -vs- $39,990 for the standard Model 3.

Most drivers will drive 95% of their average miles without using gasoline using the Toyota RAV4 Prime, but they will have the gasoline “range extender” for cross country trips without any slowdown to what they’re already used to with a gasoline vehicle.  This is how Toyota gets such a large clean air emissions advantage per kilometer over the Tesla.  It’s because the Toyota only has a 17.8 kWh battery while the standard range Tesla Model 3 has a 54 kWh battery.  The larger extra kilowatt hour battery penalizes the Tesla on manufacturing emissions while the under 20 kWh battery in the Toyota is enough for 95% of people’s average daily driving.  Lithium, cobalt and manganese for making batteries are mined and processed with high-energy input. A battery for a Tesla Model 3, for example, pollutes the climate with about 11 to 15 tons of CO2. With a battery life of ten years and a mileage of 15,000 kilometres per year, that alone would mean 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometer, according to Autovista Group.

But wait a minute, this article is about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and RMP is comparing a gasoline PHEV to BEV.  Hydrogen refueling is not as prevalent or available as gasoline refueling or battery charging, this is true.  It’s also true that we are in the very early innings of both technologies.  There was also a time in America’s relatively short history when there were no gasoline stations, no airports, and no train stations.  Hydrogen refueling stations can be built and are being built around the world right now and they’re proliferating rapidly.  Toyota knows the switch to electric powertrains is a long term game and they also know how to pair a battery with a hydrogen fuel cell.   Toyota can very easily swap the gasoline fueled internal combustion engine in a vehicle like the Toyota RAV4 Prime with a hydrogen fuel cell system as hydrogen stations build out in markets around the world.   And that’s the end game:  smaller batteries coupled with hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems.  Honda already has a platform called the Clarity that’s compatible with all three propulsion systems:  plug-in hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell, and battery electric.

Because we are in the early innings of building new energy infrastructure it’s important to look at how things are going to scale up to meet our energy hungry needs.  We know hydrogen refueling works with 100% renewable energy for refueling but we have no examples of how battery electric fast charging can do the same.  How can we calculate the cost of all the 100% renewable fast charging locations without knowing the cost of one?  At its core, this is the whole concept of scaling energy: make something once & repeat ad infinitum.  It’s like aiming for the moon from the earth, if your calculation is wrong as you set out on your trip, by the time you’ve travelled all the way to the moon you’ll have missed by several miles.

Car & Driver reports their long term Tesla Model 3 only charged two minutes faster at a 250kW charger in Michigan City, Indiana than it would at a regular 150kW charger.  It also says 250kW chargers are rare & majority are 150kW so let’s use a 150 kW rate Supercharger to keep our comparisons realistic.  Only the Model 3 & Model Y can charge at the 250kW rate while the Model S & X are limited at 150kW.  Whether charging from the 250kW or 150kW Supercharger, the average kW rate was under 75kW.  Car & Driver Source. 

Let’s go through some quick number comparisons using time, kilowatt hours, and kilograms of hydrogen to try to draw some comparisons mathematically.   First off, let’s note that there are 33.33 kWh of energy in 1 kilogram of hydrogen.  Several new hydrogen refueling stations in California slated to open later this year will have a  capacity of 1,200 kg of hydrogen.  1,200 x 33.33 = about 40 megawatt hours.  A regular hydrogen passenger vehicle will hold about 5 kg of hydrogen.  Therefore, the station’s nameplate capacity will fill about 240 cars.  The 1,200 kg capacity hydrogen station can be refilled and just keep on refueling cars, so it’s really not limited to 240 cars.  The larger capacity just makes refueling the station itself less cumbersome.  Let’s look at our hydrogen station differently.  Let’s say it has dual dispensers & the station was open during the travel hours of 6AM to 12AM or 18 hours per day.  If there are dual dispensers & 2 cars can refuel every 4 minutes, then about 30 cars can be filled each hour.  If there are 18 hours of operation in a travel day, the hydrogen station could theoretically fill 540 cars per day.  540 cars @ 5kg each is 90 megawatt hours of 100% renewable energy!!!  In a day!

Now let’s contrast to the Tesla Supercharger.  According to Car & Driver who is chronicling their long term ownership of their Tesla Model 3, they’re stating that recharging at a 150kW Supercharger delivers an average charge rate of just under 75kW.  Car & Driver said it was roughly the same kW average charge rate whether they used one of the more rare 250kW Superchargers like the one in Michigan City, Indiana or a regular 150kW Supercharger.  Superchargers are known to reduce the flow rate of electricity to each vehicle if more than one vehicle is charging simultaneously in rural areas, this is what is says on Tesla’s own website.  Charge rates drop as you add on more cars in rural areas because they just don’t have the kW capacity to charge multiple cars at high kW charge rates.  But even if we pretend charging rate is not diminished, the math is really staggeringly bad when comparing Supercharging speed to hydrogen refueling.  It gets even worse when you consider the footprint required for charging -vs- hydrogen refueling to keep throughput parity.

The data table above does some simple calculations to show that you would have to take up 64 parking spots to charge Teslas as fast as one dual nozzle H2 refueling station.   Keep in mind this is only theoretical math, the Supercharger really couldn’t even do this kind of charging unless a coal, nuclear, or natural gas plant was close by.  So, it really gets a lot worse for the Supercharger in the real world especially as it regards 100% renewable energy.

Final Conclusion

Modern chemistry batteries are an incredible technology RMP supports whole heartedly.   There are vast applications that are enhanced by using batteries, including hydrogen fuel cells.  Hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems are a good example of a technology that just doesn’t work without batteries.  Hydrogen fuel cell systems have a battery as a key component regardless of whether the fuel cell system is in a car, truck, bus, train, or marine vessel.   There is also no rule that says we can only use choose fuel cells or batteries.  We can and must use both technologies to move the ball down the field.  What’s so important right now is to stay focused on is how to eliminate toxic hydrocarbons like gasoline, diesel, & coal from our energy feedstocks.  We need domestically produced clean renewable energy that can create good paying American jobs.

Grid energy comes primarily from coal, natural gas, and nuclear.  If zero Superchargers are off-grid renewable, it means Tesla cars are powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear.  Often people say that most hydrogen comes from steam reformed natural gas which is a true statement but no one ever had a reason to make green or gray hydrogen for the consumer market until now.  The percentage of hydrogen coming from natural gas will only decline over time.  What is conveniently always left out by those same people who paint hydrogen as dirtier than batteries is that BEVs also get the majority of their energy from fossil fuels; that’s the pot calling the kettle black.  Here’s the big difference:  green hydrogen is proven to work and is scaling up.  Green hydrogen is already demonstrating it can scale up to replace gray hydrogen.  As they say, even the longest journey begins with a single step and hydrogen has already proven that it is moving down the path toward 100% renewable refueling.  100% Green Superchargers, however, continue to be a unicorn, a mermaid, bigfoot, the lochness monster or whatever other fairy tale you can think of because they just don’t exist.  If “almost all” Superchargers “are being converted to” off-grid renewable energy, why has it been three years and we have yet to see a single example of how one works?

RMP supports BEVs and the companies working honestly to produce them for so many zero emission applications, but RMP is also calling BS on Elon Musk’s false promises and believe it’s high time he honors his commitment from 3 years ago.  For all those keeping score out there:  Hydrogen 13 vs Superchargers 0.

Debunking Dr. Bossel’s Anti-Hydrogen Thesis

Proliferation of clean energy solutions like hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell manufacturing are held back by myths that need to be busted.   In this article RMP will use common sense,  simple examples, and data to dispel an argument that hydrogen production, storage, and distribution is not economical because it’s less efficient than storing energy in a battery. Many people still peddle and cling to this red herring argument as if it makes sense. That stops today. Dr. Bossel’s keyhole view of mathematics, chemistry, and physics is used as sleight of hand to mislead readers from the big picture of how energy production, storage, and grid administration really works.

dr bossel
Dr. Ulf Bossel has published many anti-hydrogen thesis statements. His papers were published between Sept 2005 & July 2008.  RMP reached out to Dr. Bossel to ask if he has amended his viewpoints published nearly 10 years ago.  Dr. Bossel did not respond to RMP’s email requests for information.

Mathematically speaking, storing electrical energy in a battery is very efficient and many times storing energy in a battery makes good common sense. Also, for the record, RMP is not anti-battery and believes that batteries are important to clean energy proliferation and RMP supports the manufacture and adoption of batteries as well as BEVs for many market segments. Yes, batteries are an important part of the Hydrogen Economy.

Dr. Ulf Bossel writes that making hydrogen from electricity is inefficient and therefore a “waste” of energy. Ironically, there are terawatt hours of electrical energy being wasted each year by not using that energy to make hydrogen.  The number of kWh wasted each year is also forecast go up as more clean renewable energy comes onto our grid. In the UK alone, according to ITM’s CEO, Dr Graham Cooley, 1TWh of electricity was curtailed in the past year that could have provided enough hydrogen to fuel 3 million cars to travel 350 miles.

Dr. Bossel’s argument goes like this: given a quantity of energy, it is more efficient to store that same quantity of energy in a battery rather than to create and store that same energy as hydrogen. The diagram shown below is used widespread on the Internet as the foundation to support this red herring anti-hydrogen argument.   There is much more, however, to the story of producing hydrogen from renewable energy than a lab experiment argument that blows out like a candle in the wind in the real world. RMP will explain in this post why Dr. Bossel’s graph and thesis statement is not credible for economic consideration. Larger quantities of energy than 100 kWh used for demonstration purposes must be considered and those quantities do not extrapolate to a high-voltage electricity grid with simple math. Geography, geopolitics, climate, socio-economics, storage capacities, human usage habits, and natural resources are but a few of several more considerations that cannot be excluded for any economic analysis if it is to be credible.

dr bossel
Dr. Ulf Bossel’s diagram has been used by anti-hydrogen advocates for years and today we are demonstrating how Dr. Bossel’s argument doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. If you see this diagram henceforth, please use your social media to share this post so people can read how Dr. Bossel’s thesis is not credible.

Let’s assume the math put forth in Dr. Bossel’s diagram is accurate for argument’s sake. It shows 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) generated from a renewable source will have 69 kWh of useful energy transferred to a battery and 23 kWh transferred to your tank after efficiency losses to make H2, compress H2, transport H2, and put that H2 into a fuel cell vehicle.  When you couple the simple to follow mathematical diagram with Dr. Bossel’s credentials as a fuel cell consultant, certain media outlets will use his published papers to underpin their arguments to say hydrogen cannot be produced economically.

Bloggers like Fred Lambert who’s Editor in Chief for the Tesla fan site Electrek and Zachary Shahan who’s Director & Chief Editor for the Tesla fan site Clean Technica are more than happy to publish Dr. Bossel’s work to support their anti-hydrogen view points. Websites like Electrek and CleanTechnica attempt to use Dr. Bossell’s lab science as credible information that can be used to write energy and economics policy outside of laboratory parameters.  Fred Lambert posted this article using Dr. Bossel’s diagram on the same very same day I started working on this post your reading now.  Sites like Electrek & CleanTechnica are still currently publishing Dr. Bossel’s diagram to support their arguments against hydrogen fuel cells even though developments in the fuel cell industry are happening frequently each month and creating mountains of evidence refuting their false viewpoints.  Dr. Bossel’s diagram has been propagated for years since he first published it along with his supporting paper “Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense” in 2006.  Now eleven years later, in 2017, if any media outlet uses Dr. Bossel’s thesis to support economic science, they lose credibility.

Dr. Bossel has published the same work explaining his thesis against the Hydrogen Economy in several different years and places but in this particular publication served by the AFDC we get the following quote that disqualifies Dr. Bossel’s work in the very first paragraph:

As there are no environmental or energetic advantages in producing hydrogen from natural gas or other hydrocarbons, we do not consider this option, although hydrogen can be chemically synthesized at relative low cost

Why would you exclude the #1 method by which approx 90% of H2 is currently made in a paper that is supposed to explain how Hydrogen Economy doesn’t make economic sense? Natural gas is a major part of the fossil fuel ramp down in the Hydrogen Economy and he has already disqualified his paper from serious consideration by saying natural gas production of H2 has been excluded from his analysis. Natural gas considerations would absolutely need to be included in a paper about the Hydrogen Economy. This point is a big one because any economic analysis must include every aspect and angle possible. An economic paper cannot rely on a keyhole analysis that distracts from the bigger picture especially when the single biggest current source of H2 production is ignored.   There are other examples of where this paper gets it wrong and how it in no way can be considered relevant to understanding how the economy or a high-voltage electricity grid works.

Ford Focus BEV
Bill Hall who sits on the Board of Directors of respectmyplanet.org drives a Ford Focus BEV and he loves it. It’s ok to support batteries as well as fuel cells if you care about the environment. The Ford Focus BEV has a 33.5 kWh battery for a rated range of 115 miles. It also has a 107 MPGe rating. It’s a terrific car for someone in the right market. Other markets might be better suited for FCEVs. BEVs and FCEVs can coexist peacefully to help us responsibly migrate away from crude oil

Dr. Bossel does make some valid points in his papers about using neutral hydrocarbons from “the biosphere” as he says and converting them to liquids like methanol.  Using carbon neutral hydrocarbons to make liquids for economics of transport for longer distances (e.g. >200km) is smart.  Carbon neutral synthetic hydrocarbons like methanol and other liquid H2 carriers like ammonia are necessary to society.  Natural gas that is flared and vented in massive oil fields & landfills around the world as a waste gas or nuisance gas could be economically captured as useful methanol to create jobs and reduce GHGs.   Read this post RMP published on October 27, 2015 in our Michigan Oil & Gas Monthly magazine as part of our leading coverage of Michigan’s hydrocarbon infrastructure and how RMP supports turning carbon neutral methane into methanol.

Unfortunately Dr. Bossel’s good mathematical points in the paper are overshadowed by his myopic and narrow view of physics while ignoring other important facets of how a complex economy works. Dr. Bossel does not make a good case because he excludes too many considerations for his paper to carry merit.   Dr. Bossel’s papers have also lost relevancy given the rapid advances in renewable energy generation capacities that he lacked the foresight to see over approximately 11 years ago.  The process to increase hydrogen production from H2O has decreased in costs via many new methods of electrolysis.  More stories are being written about breakthroughs in electrolysis economics each new month since Dr. Bossel’s paper was written.  One of the most promising electrolysis & fuel cell technologies is called high temperature reversible SOFC electrolysis.

Many things have changed since since Dr. Bossel published most of his work in  2005-2008.  Dr. Bossel does not understand how our energy grid works and where waste is really occurring. Dr. Bossel’s thesis statement is that converting water to hydrogen is a wasteful use of electricity. Ironically, we often have more generating capacity than we can use or transmit and we are curtailing electricity generation that hydrogen production could easily soak up and save for cloudy and windless days.  It’s actually wasteful to not create hydrogen because so much electricity is going unemployed. RMP will drive this point home throughout this rebuttal to Dr. Bossel’s thesis and we will look at data from various sources like CAISO to support this thesis argument. Economics is a complex subject and it’s imperative that all things are considered which is where Dr. Bossel’s arguments fail.

Like a pinhole aperture on a camera blocking nearly all light for a very specific photo shot to work, Dr. Bossel’s argument is ruined if the oculus is opened even the tiniest of bits. Any sound economic argument, however, must have the aperture cranked all the way open and stand up to broad sunlight scrutiny or it is has no credibility. Having laid down the thesis of why Dr. Bossel’s anti-hydrogen argument doesn’t work, let’s look at some real world examples.

duck chart electricity demand hydrogen
This graph gets its name for its duck-like shape that follows the hour by hour net demand that reflects human needs.  Net demand is high in the morning as people turn on their coffee makers, toast their breakfast bread, and blow dry their hair before heading off to work.  As people head off to work demand drops just when solar generation capacity is highest!  Notice the demand ramp between 3PM and 9PM of nearly 11MW!   When demand is low and electricity generation is high, we could turn wasted electricity into hydrogen to be used for later.   Batteries can play a part in helping climb steep demand ramps, but for long term storage, batteries cannot match hydrogen’s economic benefits.  Click image to enlarge.  Source: CAISO.  Click here to read CAISO’s explanation of what a duck curve tells us about managing a green grid.

Producing, compressing, and storing hydrogen might seem wasteful in a laboratory analysis, but the opposite is true in the real world.  Let’s talk about electricity “curtailment”. Curtailment of carbon zero renewable electricity is when wind & solar electricity generation capacity exceeds society’s immediate needs and the grid operator does not allow that electricity onto the grid.  Terawatt hours are being wasted each year on grids around the globe because of not employing that capacity to store energy as hydrogen.  This video from fully charged explains clearly how using excess electricity for making hydrogen is a smart economic solution for citizens in Scotland’s Orkney Islands.  The Orkney Islands’ example shows a microcosm of how governance of a high voltage electric grid is helped by making hydrogen with surplus renewable electricity.

A major high-voltage electricity grid can be understood well by turning to the California ISO, hereafter CAISO.  CAISO governs the California electricity grid and California is massive.  If California was a country, it would have an economy as large as the economy of France.  CAISO is led by an experienced Board of Governors and executive management team that set policies to ensure the reliable performance of the high-voltage electricity grid, open access to participants, and a transparent, competitive market for energy. The California ISO provides open and non-discriminatory access to the bulk of the state’s wholesale transmission grid, supported by a competitive energy market and comprehensive infrastructure planning efforts. CAISO publishes this short and straightforward document that in 4 short pages explains some fast facts about renewable energy and the “Duck Chart” that is stereotypical of any major high-voltage electricity grid. Within that document is a paragraph that refutes Dr. Bossel’s thesis. On the Over Supply Mitigation section on page 3 of the document, the first  paragraph reads:

Oversupply is when all anticipated generation, including renewables, exceeds the real-time demand.  The potential for this increases as more renewable energy is added to the grid but demand for electricity does not increase. This is a concern because if the market cannot automatically manage oversupply it can lead to overgeneration, which requires manual intervention of the market to maintain reliability. During oversupply times, wholesale prices can be very low and even go negative in which generators have to pay utilities to take the energy. But the market often remedies the oversupply situation and automatically works to restore the balance between supply and demand. In almost all cases, oversupply is a manageable condition but it is not a sustainable condition over time — and this drives the need for proactive policies and actions to avoid the situation.

RMP has been publishing a similar thesis point to CAISO’s oversupply mitigation policy for years.  RMP is at its core an organization dedicated to protecting freshwater natural resources by making better use of things that are otherwise considered waste. All of that wasted electricity could be employed easily, economically, and with proven technology if it were used to convert water into hydrogen. The argument that making, compressing, and storing hydrogen is 3 times less efficient than putting that same electricity into a battery is a red herring argument plain and simple because of this.  The costs to store electricity as hydrogen are between €10 & €20 euro per kilowatt hour vs approx €600 to €800 per kilowatt hour in lithium batteries (jump to 16:05 mark).  There are tens of thousands of megawatt hours curtailed each month on California’s grid alone and RMP is predicting we will soon see over 100k megawatt hours curtailed in a single month in California.  California has so much renewable energy generation capacity being added to the grid each year the 100k MWh threshold in a single month could even be surpassed as early as 2018.  Furthermore, California is but a microcosm example of every other major high-voltage grid around the world.  Now let’s back these arguments up with data that can be verified by anyone with an Internet connection.

The California ISO keeps electricity curtailment statistics of renewable generation. Energy curtailed is wasted energy that could be put to use as stored hydrogen. As you can see in the graph, the trend is increasing amounts of wasted renewable energy each year.  The reason is more and more renewable energy coming on to the grid with relatively no change in electricity demand.  The situation as described by CAISO is “unsustainable”. Hydrogen is a great solution to store wasted electricity for grid leveling contrary to Dr. Bossel’s anti-hydrogen thesis. Click here to see the source of this graph.  Click image to enlarge.

CAISO has been keeping curtailment data records for years but has specifically started detailing curtailment increases in the past few years when renewable energy generation started rapidly integrating onto the California grid. The graph to the left depicts historical curtailment data of renewable generation since 2014 and can be accessed directly from this link. This graph demonstrates clearly the irony and opposite nature of Dr. Bossel’s incorrect thesis. If electricity is supposed to be wasted by making hydrogen, why then are we wasting so much electricity now? Dr. Bossel’s argument doesn’t make any sense, yet it has been used to mislead many people on media sites with low journalistic integrity.   Junk science is being used to mislead people against clean and sustainable hydrogen production based on emotional and incorrect information. The truth is that electricity is being wasted by not making hydrogen.  All of these wasted MWh of electricity could be turned into hydrogen to balance the grid and take pressure off of it. Furthermore, the number of curtailed MWh is trending upward which means even more wasted MWh are forecasted for the future if we don’t employ proven water to hydrogen electrolysis assets on our grids around the world. NEL hydrogen has been in the clean energy production business since 1927.   NEL has been growing their business and creating jobs to bring sustainably produced hydrogen to market for 90 years.  NEL’s contributions to a sustainable grid about are about to grow by exponential sales figures in the coming years.  Here’s a great presentation of what NEL Hydrogen does that defies Dr. Bossel’s thesis.  NEL is creating  jobs with a solution that relieves pressure on aging grids with otherwise wasted or curtailed electricity generation from renewable sources.

Thankfully CAISO has been collecting and publishing hourly usage & curtailment data for years so we can use real world data to refute phony arguments about how producing hydrogen would waste electricity. Furthermore, even if you didn’t understand much about high-voltage electricity grids, you can clearly see a trend in the graph showing the number of MWh of renewable electricity curtailed going up each year as a result of more solar and wind generation capacity coming online each year. While Dr. Bossel’s thesis statement does not extrapolate from the laboratory out to the real world at all, RMP’s thesis statement that curtailed electricity MWh will continue to go up each year can be extrapolated to every grid around the world. This phenomenon will increase as we construct more and more clean renewable electricity generation each year like wind & solar. Hydrogen can be made cheaply and in unlimited quantities wherever there is generation capacity being curtailed or wasted. While batteries can play an important part of working together with fuel cells to help in ramping flexibility so grid operators like CAISO can react quickly to changes in electricity net demand, batteries on their own are not economical for large storage that can feed electricity into the grid for days, weeks, or months when renewable generation is weak and unreliable. This is especially true in major cities north of the 40th parallel that experience long cold winters when the skies are mostly overcast for months at a time.

hydrogen electrolysers
NEL has been making clean green hydrogen since 1927 (that’s 90 years!) Today, NEL can turn water into 100 tons of hydrogen per day! That hydrogen can be stored to power cars, trucks, busses, and our grid.  The best part is that the hydrogen can be produced with electricity that would otherwise be wasted or curtailed. If you want a green grid, you should support hydrogen for situations where batteries don’t make economic sense.  Click image to enlarge.  Source NEL.

Making hydrogen from otherwise wasted electricity generation capacity takes pressure off the grid with the growth of intermittent renewables. Fast charging like Tesla’s Super Charging sites, however, are virtually all on grid, which adds pressure to the grid while also relying on transmission lines that are vulnerable to our increasingly volatile weather. If transmission is disrupted by felled power lines, so too would grid charging transportation be disrupted until power is restored. Hydrogen allows us to balance the grid as well as go off the grid because H2 fueling stations provide off grid storage.

We need to see a plan of how an anti-hydrogen activist’s grid would work that can be peer reviewed. There was a long ramp to get into our current situation with base load coal plants still burning and belching SOx, NOx, COx, Hg, & PMs into our air and water around the clock. The ramp down of fossil fuels to a fossil free society must be explained in a manner that can be peer reviewed with substantive explanations.  We need an explanation that includes numbers and support, not empty ad hominem attacks.  How are we going to decommission coal plants and replace the base load power they supply without using fuel cells? In the Hydrogen Economy, the Hydrogen Council, which is meeting in Bonn Germany in this month, just published this “Hydrogen Scaling Up” document that explains initiatives in detail and is open for peer review. The United States Department of Energy has a whole section on their website called H2@Scale explaining how the Hydrogen Economy works and is also peer reviewable public information. With so many credible sources publishing peer reviewable plans for the Hydrogen Economy, where are the plans showing a sustainable economy without hydrogen or fuel cells?

2016 Aggregate electricity generation data from the EIA shows that of 4.08 trillion kWh produced in the USA, over 30% of that production (1.24 trillion kWh) came from coal generation. There has to be a ramp to get down from where we are today. We need to see a plan from those who think a switch gets magically flipped and those 1.24 kWh of base load power are replaced. The same replacement explanation is needed to explain how natural gas (@ 1.38 trillion kWh), and nuclear (@ 803 billion kWh) would be replaced. How do you replace this generation without fuel cells? Show us the plan. If you were to cut out fossil fuel generation overnight, the effects would be devastating with a recent case & point being the island of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.   As of November 13, 2017, still half of Puerto Rico’s grid remains off line. People remain in desperate need of energy in order to have clean water and to generate power for their hospitals.  In a Hydrogen Economy with a distributed grid, power outages would be less wide spread. Natural gas lines generally run underground and can feed SOFCs and PAFCs that are powerful enough to provide electricity and hot water for hospitals & hotels at upwards of 85% efficiency. Natural gas lines are much less likely to be taken out by natural disasters like above ground power lines. If you have a BEV in Puerto Rico, you might be part of 50% of the population that has not been able to charge it since September. People in Puerto Rico at the date of this publication are still desperate for gasoline to power their vehicles. These serious issues deserve serious consideration.

2016 USA total electricity generation by source from the EIA. Approx 65% of 2016 electricity in the USA came from fossil fuels. We can help ramp down fossil fuel usage and imported oil by using wasted excess electricity to make carbon zero hydrogen. Click here for data source.  Click image to enlarge.

RMP compiled data from the EIA here to make a quick graph shown at the left to demonstrate the breakdown of our USA electricity generation. Total renewable generation makes up 16.1% of all generation of 4.08 trillion kWh while approximately 65% of that generation came from fossil fuels.   Of the 16.1% generation from renewable sources, hydropower leads the way at 6.5%. Wind comes in second at 5.6% and solar registers at less than 1% !!! The notion that we switch to BEVs only and put solar panels on our roofs and we’re all done is not a credible position to have.   Using BEVs and solar panels on our rooftops is a great idea and it’s admirable to pioneers who are looking to help make the world a better place; but those efforts do not scratch the surface of the challenges we face in order to eliminate fossil fuels from our economy. We have to be much more thoughtful than that. There is no flipping a switch to get there and we need to see a thoughtful white paper from someone other than Dr. Bossel, because his thesis is not credible nor is any media outlet that uses it to support economic viewpoints.

And that’s how the debunking of Dr. Bossel’s anti-hydrogen thesis ends. RMP does not mean to pick on Dr. Bossel in a personal way but must stand up to protect the truth when someone gets the science wrong and misleads the public. Dr. Bossel has made good contributions to the science of physics and makes good points about the energy density issues of methanol and ammonia versus those of compressed or liquefied H2. To those points, RMP finds common ground with Dr. Bossel. But, where economic science is concerned, Dr. Bossel’s thesis quickly falls apart and becomes not credible.

Dr. Bossel’s failure to include natural gas in his analysis shot his argument in the foot from the very first paragraph. By failing to demonstrate knowledge of how a high-voltage electricity grid works, Dr. Bossel further disqualifies himself as a credible source.

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