ACEEE Lauds Hydrogen Goal, But Calls for Action Today for a Balanced Energy Policy

January 29, 2003

Washington, D.C. — The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) applauds the President's call for accelerating the deployment of hydrogen-powered vehicles in the United States. Hydrogen-powered vehicles could mitigate major environmental, economic, and political problems we now face as a result of our over-reliance on fossil fuels. "However, oil dependence and price volatility, as well as rising greenhouse gas production, are critical problems today, and we have tools to begin addressing them today," stated Therese Langer, ACEEE's Transportation Program Director. "We cannot afford for a single year to slack off on efforts to curb our appetite for energy, and in particular for oil." Nor can the United States afford to put all its "eggs" in the hydrogen "basket"; we need to pursue a mix of technologies and policies.

"Regardless of what mix of energy sources we use, energy efficiency remains key to achieving a sustainable energy future," said Bill Prindle, ACEEE's Deputy Director. "Without moderation in energy demand, any energy supply system will be unsustainable because it will have to compete too hard for capital, land, materials, and other scarce resources."

In the transportation sector, mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a tantalizing vision that may well materialize. But best current estimates place an affordable fuel cell car or truck at least fifteen years away. In the meantime, technical challenges presented by fuel cells (for example, longevity, price, response to fuel impurities, and operating temperatures), on-board fuel storage and reforming issues, and—most importantly—lack of an infrastructure to deliver hydrogen (or another non-fossil fuel from which to generate hydrogen) pose enormous obstacles. These obstacles are not insurmountable, but getting over them will require plenty of time, as well as money.

Once fuel cell vehicles have entered the market in earnest, it will take an additional decade for them to replace the vehicles on the road. And that's assuming they'll outperform the competition, which is not a safe bet. Taking into account the likeliest paths to hydrogen production, some of which involve continued reliance on fossil fuels, fuel cell vehicles may not offer any significant advantage (in terms of global warming or air pollution) over advanced hybrid-electric vehicles.

"By all means," added Langer, "let's invest in research and development to accelerate the advance of hydrogen fuel vehicles, as part of a portfolio of technologies to cut down on fossil fuel use in the longer term. But our energy problems can't wait—and they don't have to. There are many strategies we can pursue starting this year." Strategies include incentives for purchasing efficient vehicles, higher fuel economy standards to ensure that those vehicles are available, and policies to encourage people to drive less. Investing in new technologies for tomorrow should not deter us from applying the tools we have today to increase our energy security, protect the environment, and keep our economy strong.