Hydrogen’s potential role in California


Lew Fulton

Additional Researchers

Behdad Kiani, Joan Ogden, Chris Yang 


How would changes in travel patterns, as indicated in a “3 Revolutions” world, affect the nature of energy storage from vehicles? For example, if there were far fewer vehicles, running much higher shares of the time (for fleet purposes, on demand ride-hailing, etc), what would be the implications of this change for recharging EVs and for refueling H2 vehicles, and to what extent would the flexibility offered by H2 refueling become a bigger advantage or otherwise help balance the system? 

California has strong initiatives for both electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. There are now over half a million EVs in the state. The hydrogen vehicle system is more nascent but growing rapidly. Additionally, state climate policies are driving adoption of renewable power and low carbon fuels.  California’s future could include large numbers of both EVs and FCVs, powered by low carbon energy. EVs and FCVs could compete or serve complimentary roles. Depending on the application and usage patterns, electric and hydrogen vehicles might add to electricity demands, further stressing a renewable-intensive grid, or offer opportunities for energy storage and better system management, with electrolytic H2 production complementing battery storage on vehicles. In a "3 Revolutions" world, with increasing numbers of ride hail and automated vehicles, more intensive use of vehicles will affect when and how they are recharged or refueled, impacting grid operation and/or design of hydrogen refueling infrastructure.    

This project will explore the potential role of H2 FCVs considering needed infrastructure, grid interactions, and relationship to the growing use of EVs and 3R technologies. We will create scenarios for 2030 and 2050 transportation and electricity systems, and how these could interact, using our existing detailed models modified for this purpose. We will estimate costs and benefits of hydrogen in these systems from the point of vehicle fuel for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, potential demand scenarios, and how this demand may relate to grid production of H2 as part of a renewable electricity strategy.  

This is planned as a multi-year project, but with some substantive outputs each year. In year 1 it will be primarily a scoping project, including lit review and initial analysis of H2 pathways and an analysis of a “steady state” future system for CA.  Deeper transition analysis would be undertaken (possibly with the spatial model being developed in Project 2) during 2020.