How Wall Street Banks Will Reap Billions From Tax-Free Renewable Energy Bonds

LLUSTRATION BY STUART BRADFORD FOR FORBES

One of the hottest trends in finance is prepaid muni bonds structured to help local utilities buy decades worth of renewable electricity. They’re good for the environment, but even better for the banks that will profit from cheap financing, trading profits and federal tax breaks.

Socially responsible investing, marketed under the moniker “ESG” (short for environmental, social and governance), is a huge and growing business. In 2015 global ESG-related assets were $2.2 trillion, according to PwC, growing to $9.4 trillion in 2020 and nearly doubling in 2021 to $18.4 trillion. Sustainable bonds are a big slice of this pie.

Globally, over the last two years, an average of more than 400 bonds have been issued per quarter, totaling over $1.7 trillion, according to the London Stock Exchange’s Refinitiv group. European issuance is more than double that of the U.S., but a wave of new green bonds is coming here.

One particularly vibrant corner of this market: ESG-certified municipal bonds, such as those designed to help local communities prepay for decades’ worth of green electricity. According to Monica Reid, the founder of Kestrel, which charges “a fraction of a basis point” of a new bond deal’s face value to verify new issues as “social,” “green” or “sustainable,” there have been $85 billion worth of these municipal bonds issued in the U.S. in the last two years.

Reid’s Hood River, Oregon–based team of 27 analysts and engineers certified nearly a third of them. “Not everything is green or sustainable or socially beneficial because it’s financed with municipal bonds,” Reid says. “The muni market is also where coal ash dumps are financed, ports and airports. It’s where turnpikes and toll roads are financed.

We are very discerning. Internally we have a do-no-harm criteria. If repayment is from oil royalties or gambling revenues, that’s a problem.” Like so many environmental trends, this one started in California. Over the past 14 months enormous Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have persuaded ultra-green electric power agencies in Northern California to hand them roughly $2.7 billion, with $2 billion more in the works.

The power agencies raise that upfront cash by selling tax-free municipal bonds of the type Kestrel certifies. In return, the banks so far have promised to deliver into the California power grid 2.2 million megawatt hours per year of “green” electricity, sourced from solar, wind and hydropower.

There are many winners. The banks get cheap loans to spend on whatever they want. Californians, like the residents of 15 other states and the District of Columbia, get to pick their provider and can choose to put their money toward greener power. And investors can hold the bonds comforted by the knowledge that they have invested in something not only green but backed by a big bank’s guarantee.

The loser? Uncle Sam. If Morgan Stanley issued its own similarly structured corporate debt to raise funds, it would likely pay 6% or so interest, subject to federal tax. But when Morgan raises cash via a municipal prepaid green electricity deal at a 4% interest rate, it incurs no federal tax. On $3 billion in green power munis so far, that would equate to some $50 million a year in forgone tax revenue.

Maybe it’s worth it. After all, it’s a model that could quickly spread across the nation and help underwrite the development of enormous amounts of greener energy. But it also could add up to billions of dollars in hidden annual subsidies to rich Wall Street banks. That might not play well in Peoria.

California is one of 10 states that have enabled the creation of local electricity-purchasing cooperatives called Community Choice Aggregators. They have names like Marin Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, and were formed to enable Californians to buy power marketed as 100% “green.” In recent years these co-ops have entered multidecade contracts directly with the owners of solar fields and wind farms to buy their electricity output.

But these electric co-ops are utterly unequipped to manage a host of complex contracts with financial counterparties. So last year the Marin co-op joined with sister entities in places like Silicon Valley, Berkeley and Carmel to set up what’s known as a conduit issuer, the California Community Choice Financing Authority (CCCFA), essentially a shell agency with the power to issue tax-free municipal bonds.

In the last 14 months, CCCFA has issued $2.7 billion in three different Clean Energy Project Revenue Bond deals, with tax-exempt coupon rates of 4%, courtesy of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. The money goes toward prepaying for 30 years of renewable electricity. Prepaying comes with a discount. CCCFA members, for example, expect to save $7 million per year on their electricity purchases. Continue reading…..

By:&

Source: How Wall Street Banks Will Reap Billions From Tax-Free Renewable Energy Bonds

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Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

More companies are investing in renewable energy to power their operations and offset their carbon emissions...Getty Images

EBay at its very core pioneered the circular economy — of finding new homes for treasures that might otherwise have ended up at the dump. “Avoiding items going into a landfill is very important to our customers,” says Steve Priest, CFO of eBay. “Driving the circular economy is part of everything we do.” But finding new shelves for Beanie Babies is just a small component in eBay’s sustainability efforts, which prioritize slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

In eBay’s case, these are mostly tied to electricity used to power vast data centers. Since 2017 eBay has cut its carbon emissions by 29% to 88,000 tons per year. The e-commerce giant became carbon neutral this year, and is aiming to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply for all its offices and data centers by 2025.

This goal might actually be attainable in the next few years as eBay’s biggest clean energy projects yet come online. The White Mesa Wind Project in Texas (a joint venture with Apple, Sprint and Samsung) began operating this year, producing 75 peak megawatts for the four companies, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Meanwhile the Ventress Solar Project in Louisiana, a virtual purchase power agreement between eBay, McDonalds and BP’s Lightsource division, will generate 345 MW. “We collaborate with our tech peers when some sustainability issues come up, where banding together makes more sense,” says eBay’s chief sustainability officer Renee Morin.

Such efforts have earned eBay the no. 11 spot on our inaugural Forbes Green Growth 50 list. Using emissions data from Sustainalytics and financial data from FactSet Research Systems, we honed in on U.S. companies with market caps greater than $5 billion, that started with more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2017, and have since successfully reduced their emissions while simultaneously growing profitability (as measured by an absolute increase in net income or operating income from 2017-2020).

Going in, we figured these criteria would produce a list of more than 100 companies. But green growth is harder than it looks — both Weyerhaeuser and Edison International, ranking no. 21 and no. 10 on our list, grew earnings less than 2% since 2017.

Is there a connection between cutting carbon emissions and boosting earnings? eBay’s Priest thinks we’ve reached the point where companies that don’t care about green will find it nearly impossible to deliver growth. “Customers want to be associated with corporations that take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Those that do will continue to drive loyalty from their customer base.”

This is a strategic emphasis echoed by Stephan Tanda, CEO of Aptar, which took the no. 1 spot on the Green Growth 50. Aptar makes myriad drug delivery systems and dispensing products for consumer goods, especially foods and cosmetics. “We look at everything we do through a sustainability lens.” Most of Aptar’s facilities in Europe are already certified landfill free. By the end of the year Aptar is looking to achieve “80% disposal avoidance.”

It’s a business that involves reconciling contradictions — most of their products are plastic, which he says actually has a pretty low carbon footprint relative to alternative containers. A new Aptar product is a “monomaterial” lotion pump with no metal parts, entirely recyclable.

Consumer demand for such new products is arguably more impactful than the kind of government policy circus on display at the recent COP26 meetings in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Governments don’t impact what we do that much. Consumers and patients and customers demand what we do,” says Tanda. They will pay for the carbon transition because it is what they want. Listening to the consumers is how Tanda aims to “future proof our business.”

That approach has worked for electricity giant AES, which landed no. 15 on the Green Growth 50 list after reducing emissions by 22%, replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and batteries — “a winning combination that can decarbonize 90% of the grid,” says Chris Shelton, president of AES Next. Because the costs of renewables kept going down, they were able to shift customers over under a “green, blend and extend” program.

AES also operates a kind of inhouse venture capital operation. Its Fluence utility-scale battery joint venture with Siemens recently went public and now sports a $6 billion market cap — the company behind some of the biggest battery installations in the world.

There used to be a large group of companies “in denial” about mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. “That group is vanishing fast,” with companies moving over to the “bargaining” group, where they want to know the minimum they have to do to get by and keep activists off their back — that’s the insight of Chris Romer, cofounder of Project Canary, which installs laser-based sensors at industrial sites to monitor methane leakages.

The landmark ESG moment, he says, was last year’s ExxonMobil annual meeting, where shareholders voted in more green-friendly board members.  There’s no going back. Romer says manufacturers can already earn multiples of their monitoring and certification costs by selling “green” products at a premium.

Even on the Green Growth 50, some companies are less enthusiastic than others. Nicotine giant Altria for example, positioned at no. 35 on our list, seems to be doing just enough, having cut emissions by 10% in the studied time period. But according to its most recent sustainability report, Altria’s renewable energy use is just 2.3% of its total, a surprisingly meager ratio.

Altria also demonstrates how hard it can be to stick to a well intentioned program. The company was making great strides toward reducing the amount of waste it was sending to the landfill. In 2018 it nearly hit its 21 million pounds goal. But 2019 wrecked the trend, when Altria delivered 87 million tons to landfill — mostly rubble from a headquarters renovation. Their next challenge: reducing litter from cigarette butts.

Stronger performers included Eli Lilly, which ranked eighth on our list after the pharmaceutical company swapped out old light bulbs for LEDs at three plants, saving 330 mwh per year. And Bristol Myers Squibb, which heats its Munich, Germany office building with 100% geothermal energy, found itself at no. 13. Church & Dwight, parent company of Arm & Hammer, has meanwhile placed third on the list, having achieved its goals of no more PVC in packaging, and offsets carbon emissions by planting millions of trees in the Mississippi River Valley.

I’m an assistant editor based in New York covering money and markets for Forbes. In the past, I covered minority communities for the Boston Business Journal

Christopher Helman

Tracking energy innovators from Houston, Texas. Forbes reporter since 1999.

Source: Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

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Related contents:

EU green energy product imports: €15.2 billion Eurostat (Press Release)

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7 Types of Renewable Energy: The Future of Energy

Renewable energy is energy that has been derived from earth’s natural resources that are not finite or exhaustible, such as wind and sunlight. Renewable energy is an alternative to the traditional energy that relies on fossil fuels, and it tends to be much  less harmful to the environment.

7 Types of Renewable Energy

Solar

Solar energy is derived by capturing radiant energy from sunlight and converting it into heat, electricity, or hot water. Photovoltaic (PV) systems can convert direct sunlight into electricity through the use of solar cells.

Benefits

One of the benefits of solar energy is that sunlight is functionally endless. With the technology to harvest it, there is a limitless supply of solar energy, meaning it could render fossil fuels obsolete. Relying on solar energy rather than fossil fuels also helps us improve public health and environmental conditions.

In the long term, solar energy could also eliminate energy costs, and in the short term, reduce your energy bills. Many federal local, state, and federal governments also incentivize the investment in solar energy by providing rebates or tax credits.

Current Limitations

Although solar energy will save you money in the long run, it tends to be a significant upfront cost and is an unrealistic expenses for most households. For personal homes, homeowners also need to have the ample sunlight and space to arrange their solar panels, which limits who can realistically adopt this technology at the individual level.

Wind

Wind farms capture the energy of wind flow by using turbines and converting it into electricity. There are several forms of systems used to convert wind energy and each vary. Commercial grade wind-powered generating systems can power many different organizations, while single-wind turbines are used to help supplement pre-existing energy organizations.

Another form is utility-scale wind farms, which are purchased by contract or wholesale. Technically, wind energy is a form of solar energy. The phenomenon we call “wind” is caused by the differences in temperature in the atmosphere combined with the rotation of Earth and the geography of the planet.

Benefits

Wind energy is a clean energy source, which means that it doesn’t pollute the air like other forms of energy. Wind energy doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, or release any harmful products that can cause environmental degradation or negatively affect human health like smog, acid rain, or other heat-trapping gases.[2] Investment in wind energy technology can also open up new avenues for jobs and job training, as the turbines on farms need to be serviced and maintained to keep running.

Current Limitations

Since wind farms tend to be built in rural or remote areas, they are usually far from bustling cities where the electricity is needed most. Wind energy must be transported via transition lines, leading to higher costs. Although wind turbines produce very little pollution, some cities oppose them since they dominate skylines and generate noise. Wind turbines also threaten local wildlife like birds, which are sometimes killed by striking the arms of the turbine while flying.

Hydroelectric

Dams are what people most associate when it comes to hydroelectric power. Water flows through the dam’s turbines to produce electricity, known as pumped-storage hydropower. Run-of-river hydropower uses a channel to funnel water through rather than powering it through a dam.

Benefits

Hydroelectric power is very versatile and can be generated using both large scale projects, like the Hoover Dam, and small scale projects like underwater turbines and lower dams on small rivers and streams. Hydroelectric power does not generate pollution, and therefore is a much more environmentally-friendly energy option for our environment.

Current Limitations

Most U.S. hydroelectricity facilities use more energy than they are able to produce for consumption. The storage systems may need to use fossil fuel to pump water.[3]  Although hydroelectric power does not pollute the air, it disrupts waterways and negatively affects the animals that live in them, changing water levels, currents, and migration paths for many fish and other freshwater ecosystems.

Geothermal

Geothermal heat is heat that is trapped beneath the earth’s crust from the formation of the Earth 4.5 billion years ago and from radioactive decay. Sometimes large amounts of this heat escapes naturally, but all at once, resulting in familiar occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions and geysers. This heat can be captured and used to produce geothermal energy by using steam that comes from the heated water pumping below the surface, which then rises to the top and can be used to operate a turbine.

Benefits

Geothermal energy is not as common as other types of renewable energy sources, but it has a significant potential for energy supply. Since it can be built underground, it leaves very little footprint on land. Geothermal energy is naturally replenished and therefore does not run a risk of depleting (on a human timescale).

Current Limitations

Cost plays a major factor when it comes to disadvantages of geothermal energy. Not only is it costly to build the infrastructure, but another major concern is its vulnerability to earthquakes in certain regions of the world.

Ocean

The ocean can produce two types of energy: thermal and mechanical. Ocean thermal energy relies on warm water surface temperatures to generate energy through a variety of different systems. Ocean mechanical energy uses the ebbs and flows of the tides to generate energy, which is created by the earth’s rotation and gravity from the moon.

Benefits

Unlike other forms of renewable energy, wave energy is predictable and it’s easy to estimate the amount of energy that will be produced. Instead of relying on varying factors, such as sun and wind, wave energy is much more consistent. This type of renewable energy is also abundant, the most populated cities tend to be near oceans and harbors, making it easier to harness this energy for the local population.

The potential of wave energy is an astounding as yet untapped energy resource with an estimated ability to produce 2640 TWh/yr. Just 1 TWh/yr of energy can power around 93,850 average U.S. homes with power annually, or about twice than the number of homes that currently exist in the U.S. at present.[4]

Current Limitations

Those who live near the ocean definitely benefit from wave energy, but those who live in landlocked states won’t have ready access to this energy. Another disadvantage to ocean energy is that it can disturb the ocean’s many delicate ecosystems.

Although it is a very clean source of energy, large machinery needs to be built nearby to help capture this form energy, which can cause disruptions to the ocean floor and the sea life that habitats it. Another factor to consider is weather, when rough weather occurs it changes the consistency of the waves, thus producing lower energy output when compared to normal waves without stormy weather.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen needs to be combined with other elements, such as oxygen to make water as it does not occur naturally as a gas on its own. When hydrogen is separated from another element it can be used for both fuel and electricity.

Benefits

Hydrogen can be used as a clean burning fuel, which leads to less pollution and a cleaner environment. It can also be used for fuel cells which are similar to batteries and can be used for powering an electric motor.

Current Limitations

Since hydrogen needs energy to be produced, it is inefficient when it comes to preventing pollution.

Biomass

Bioenergy is a renewable energy derived from biomass. Biomass is organic matter that comes from recently living plants and organisms. Using wood in your fireplace is an example of biomass that most people are familiar with.

There are various methods used to generate energy through the use of biomass. This can be done by burning biomass, or harnessing methane gas which is produced by the natural decomposition of organic materials in ponds or even landfills.

Benefits

The use of biomass in energy production creates carbon dioxide that is put into the air, but the regeneration of plants consumes the same amount of carbon dioxide, which is said to create a balanced atmosphere. Biomass can be used in a number of different ways in our daily lives, not only for personal use, but businesses as well.

In 2017, energy from biomass made up about 5% of the total energy used in the U.S. This energy came from wood, biofuels like ethanol, and  energy generated from methane captured from landfills or by burning municipal waste.

Brought to you by justenergy.com

Source: 7 Types of Renewable Energy: The Future of Energy

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Related contents:

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How Shell Is Using Web3 And Blockchain For Sustainability And Energy Transition

Shell is one of the largest energy companies in the world. Although many of us may associate it primarily with oil and gas, it has embarked on an ambitious energy transition agenda in a bid to move away from the use of fossil fuels toward green and sustainable energy.

This includes targets of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner, as well as a more immediate goal of reducing scope one and two emissions by 50 percent by the end of this decade.

In order to do this, it is leveraging several new technology trends that are proving themselves to be revolutionary in many industries beyond their own sector. These include artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), and – as we will see in this article – Web3 and blockchain.

Blockchain is best known to most people as the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The simplest way to think of it is that it’s essentially a relatively new form of database format. Blockchains have two key features that make them different from other databases. Firstly, rather than being centrally located on a specific computer or server, they are distributed. This means they are spread across multiple computers, so no one person is in direct, overall control, and all changes have to be validated by consensus.

Secondly, they are encrypted, meaning they are effectively tamper-proof, and only people with permission can add to them or edit the data they contain.

These two features, in combination, make blockchain ideal for applications where data needs to be added, checked, and validated by multiple parties, and security and integrity are of utmost importance. A good demonstration of its robustness can be seen in the fact that the Bitcoin network itself handles 270 million transactions every day, is worth (as of writing) around $400 billion and has remained secure throughout the 13 years of its existence so far.

These features make blockchain an attractive technology for global organizations like Shell, which need hyper-secure, scalable technology solutions to drive a new generation of applications involving collecting and sharing valuable data. Their “trustless” nature improves the current processes used across the industry, helps to reimagine energy value chains via tokenizing energy to create transparency & traceability, and creates new markets and new business models with DEFI / DAO’s / NFT’s etc.

Recently, I was joined by Dan Jeavons, VP of Computational Science and Digital Innovation at Shell, as well as Shell’s blockchain lead, Sabine Brink, to discuss some of these projects on my webinar.

Brink tells me, “The intersect of digital and energy is one of the most exciting spaces. Looking at how do we utilize this technology – web3, blockchain that accelerate the energy transition. This is an extremely motivating journey to be on.”

This enthusiasm has led to her spending the past five years examining every area of the business where blockchain and related Web3 technologies could be implemented in order to drive sustainability and green energy goals. A number of projects have emerged out of this, and the most promising are now moving into pilot and production stages, where it is hoped their ability to drive real global change will be realized.

In particular, I was interested to hear how the energy giant is using blockchain to trace and verify the provenance of energy created from renewable sources. As the world has come to appreciate the urgent need to transition towards sustainable energy sources, huge rewards – both in terms of financial incentives and customer loyalty – have emerged for organizations that work towards affecting change.

The process, however, is often opaque – it’s difficult for customers or partner organizations to really be sure exactly how clean a specific energy source or supplier is. Jeavons and Brink explained to me that Shell has developed a blockchain-based system that can demystify the complex web of sources.

He says, “So if you look at the electricity market today, we have energy attribute certificates (EAC) that represent green energy or grey [non-green] energy generated in a given month or year. For companies that aim to run on 100 percent green energy, their monthly or yearly certificates may match their total energy consumption, but when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind does not blow, grey energy is actually being consumed. So it’s hard to claim that they are actually consuming green energy on a 24/7 basis.”

Shell’s solution involves creating highly granular certificates in real-time at the source where the energy is created – which could be solar panels in the desert or wind farms in the ocean – to represent the green energy produced at every half hour, in sync with established energy attribute certificates systems. Every point of that electron’s journey to the point that it is consumed is tracked and recorded on a blockchain.

“This is one of those solutions where blockchain creates the transparency and assures us there’s no double-counting of electrons in the system; we believe this could be a game-changer,” Jeavons tells me.

Another project which has just made the leap to pilot phase is an ambitious venture between Shell, Accenture, and Amex aimed at increasing the availability and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Brink says, “To me, this is one of the most exciting projects we’ve been working on. I’m very proud of the team. It’s one of the first public blockchain solutions that creates a credible and transparent way to help decarbonize the aviation sector. Thanks to its inherent technical features, blockchain offers verifiability, transparency, and security of environmental attributes of SAF.”

The product is Avelia – one of the first blockchain-powered book-and-claim system which will offer around one million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and associated environmental benefits to corporates looking to reduce emissions from their business travel.

Currently, there is insufficient SAF available at an affordable price. It’s hoped that through aggregating demand for SAF among corporate travelers who form a more concentrated segment than leisure passengers, there will be a reduction in the price – with SAF currently priced significantly higher than equivalent conventional aviation fuels. However, a growth in demand for the fuel will theoretically lead to suppliers increasing investment in production and, therefore, an eventual fall in price.

“It’s really hard to decarbonize the aviation sector,” Brink tells me. “Decarbonizing the aviation sector cannot happen overnight. Today we do not have large-scale airplanes that can be powered by green electricity that are able to travel the world. Sustainable aviation fuel is actually a solution – sustainable aviation fuel that we can utilize today and implement with existing infrastructure.

With Avelia, we hope to demonstrate that the tracking of SAF data at scale can be delivered in a credible manner, thereby proving to decision-makers that a mechanism for corporations and airlines to book and claim SAF is an acceptable form of emission reduction. In turn, this creates increased demand signals to structurally scale the SAF production required to reduce emissions in aviation.”

Other blockchain and digital transformation projects currently undergoing evaluation or pilot status at Shell involve “digital passports” to track the lifecycle of industrial parts, equipment, and machinery at energy plants operated by the company and its partners.

Of course, all of this technology-driven transformation is driven, at its root, by data, and Shell has worked to implement an integrated data platform that aggregates 2.9 trillion rows of information harvested from all areas of its business. This includes IoT sensors installed across its plants and wind and solar farms, ultimately allowing it to create digital twin applications to help it better understand the operation of its assets.

Jeavons says, “This is what my team is so excited about – the potential to do this at scale. We’re rolling out digital twin … we’re rolling out AI … and when you put that together with traceability, we believe we could bring to market a whole raft of decarbonization solutions … where we could partner with our customers to help them accelerate their own decarbonization journeys. We’re just getting started.”

Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies.

Source: How Shell Is Using Web3 And Blockchain For Sustainability And Energy Transition

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Hydrogen Is Not A Fuel, It’s A Cult

The sales pitch for hydrogen is heating up, although not as much as the Hindenburg did in 1937. In the UK, there are even advertisements for the fuel on the London Underground, which is quite an odd thing to see next to posters about the latest iPhone and vitamin supplements.

It’s not like the average employee on their way to work is going to rush out and buy some H2 before reaching the office. No, this is more of a sign that there is a PR campaign to implant hydrogen in the public imagination as the savior of all our lifestyles in the face of climate change.

For a certain type of tabloid-reading consumer, it’s working, with many claiming they won’t buy battery-electric vehicles because they are “waiting for hydrogen”. The bigger problem is that governments are listening too and it’s not necessarily such a good thing. Recently, the EU has made a pledge to move to 2.6% renewable fuels such as green hydrogen (produced from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar) and replace 50% of grey hydrogen (produced from methane) with green hydrogen as well.

This would be all well and good if we had abundant renewable energy to call upon, but we don’t. Research organization Transport & Environment has found that this would put undue pressure on the wind and solar we have when it is direly needed for other applications.

The UK government is also putting a lot of emphasis on hydrogen, with some dramatic numbers about how many jobs could be created and how much the industry could be worth by 2050 (100,000 jobs and £13 billion / $17 billion). The UK has already switched a lot of its generation grid to renewables, particularly wind, which sometimes now supplies over half the country’s electricity. But that still doesn’t mean there will be loads of surplus to be used for producing hydrogen. The bullish employment and market value predictions appear to hide some major obstacles.

This threatens to derail our route to decarbonization more than ease it. The arguments against hydrogen as our lord and savior are increasingly well known, and mostly revolve around the laws of physics. Hydrogen may be abundant in the universe but harnessing it for use is not so easy. Although there are some ways of harvesting hydrogen as a byproduct of other processes, it usually must be extracted from fossil fuels or electrolyzing water.

The latter is the truly green option but takes plenty of energy and loses about a third of the power input compared to just sending the electricity over the grid. You lose even more using fuel cells to convert the hydrogen back to electricity, and even more with hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels. Only mild improvements in efficiency are expected over the coming decades, too.

The chief thing that hydrogen has in its favor is convenience and that seems to be central tenet of the cult surrounding it. Hydrogen fans are fixated on the fact that it takes five minutes to replenish an H2 vehicle, just like fossil fuel. Even more enticingly, evangelists are being fed the story that they will soon be able to use a hydrogen-based synthetic fuel in the cars they are driving right now, with no change necessary.

These ideas appear to have been propagated to delay the uptake of battery-electric vehicles. In Europe at least, it doesn’t seem to be working yet, with every month an improvement on the last for EV sales. In the UK, sales of BEVs in November were twice what they were in November 2020, which in their turn were twice as much as November 2019. In contrast, there are just a few hundred hydrogen cars in the whole of Britain. Certainly, in the car industry at least, if hydrogen is coming to save us, it better hurry up before it’s too late.

The problem with all the unrealistically positive rhetoric about hydrogen for cars is that the fuel type does have a place in the decarbonized energy economy. But its inefficiency must be balanced against its convenience and where direct electrification is not an option.

Michael Liebreich of BloombergNEF has created a handy pyramid of the relative value of different hydrogen use scenarios, with applications like fertilizer being essential, but any form of transport from trucks, coaches, and short-haul aviation downwards being better served by batteries, or other forms of electrification. The essential hydrogen applications are called “no regret” scenarios, a phrase coined by German think-tank Agora Energiewende, because their need is uncontroversial, whereas transportation is already proving to be more efficiently served by batteries.

The cult of hydrogen being the future has merely provoked a massively negative reaction from those who are already driving BEVs and realize that they are not just the future, but here and now. That detracts from the uses where hydrogen does have a benefit, for example as a portable energy source for areas where there is no electrical grid. The Extreme E race series uses hydrogen generators as a clean way of creating electrical power to charge its battery-powered SUV race cars.

The problem is that the underlying battle is between two types of energy provider – electricity grid suppliers versus oil and gas companies. The latter are generally in favor of hydrogen because currently most of it is made out of their methane or coal. They also want to maintain their financial model of forcing consumers and industrial customers to go somewhere to pay for fuel, rather than having it supplied to their homes and businesses. Electricity providers, in contrast, want to sell more electricity wherever it can be supplied.

The question should be “which is greenest?” The main component of this is that governments realize where hydrogen is best used and invest accordingly. The EU is refocusing its hydrogen push away from personal mobility, but not transportation entirely. There are some valid possibilities here, but in all except some very specialized situations hydrogen has almost no reason to be used.

Cars are very much not one of those valid possibilities, which is why those who still promote this are starting to sound like a cult. As the Agora Energiewende report concludes, “Just a decade ago, fuel-cell electric cars seemed to be the future of the automotive industry. Today, the dream is over.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am the editor of independent electric vehicle website WhichEV. I have over 25 years’ experience as a technology journalist and a life-long love of cars, so

Source: Hydrogen Is Not A Fuel, It’s A Cult

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