California is anticipating a steady increase in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), outpacing the current growth rate of hydrogen fuel stations. There is no Tesla to save FCEV drivers in this case. Rather, two national labs and the federal government are stepping in.
Sandia National Laboratories, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the U.S. Department of Energy developed the Hydrogen Station Equipment Performance device (HyStEP) to reduce the time it takes to commission/build new stations — from months down to about one week. Previously, each automaker would need to test their FCEV’s compatibility with the station, resulting in numerous similar tests. The HyStEP can emulate each FCEV for the purposes of FCEV-station compatibility testing. Thus, instead of multiple automakers testing separate vehicles, the tests are now consolidated into one easier, more fluid device.
From an economic point of view, people are not as likely to switch to a new product if the cost of switching is too high. The switching cost can take various forms: raw expenditure to acquire the new product, for example, or the inconvenience of adjusting to new complementary infrastructure or networks designed around that product. In turn, businesses are less likely to make the product, since prohibitive switching costs for consumers would limit adoption and overall feasibility/sustainability of the product.
Accelerating the adoption of renewable energy-based vehicles is as much a matter of reducing switching costs as it is building an innately compelling EV. Tesla understands this, with its consistent introduction of independent charging and supercharging stations: owning a Tesla becomes increasingly convenient.
Now that hydrogen fuel stations are so much easier and resource-efficient to develop, the growth rate of hydrogen fuel stations should increase dramatically, lowering switching costs for consumers, further incentivizing automakers to produce even more FCEVs, the sale of which demand more hydrogen fuel stations: a virtuous cycle.
California is leading the way, once again, in accelerating the general advent of sustainable transportation. There is also universal value in this development: other states can use California’s trailblazing method as a model, and with each additional state’s additional step of progress in the transition toward totally sustainable transportation comes a healthier environment and a healthier global society.