How a sharing economy could catapult hydrogen vehicles into the mainstream

EXCLUSIVE: Embracing a sharing economy could allow hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to carve out a niche route to accelerate into the mainstream vehicle mix, but only if efforts to boost infrastructure productions are increased.

That is the view of leading energy consultant Ecuity, which has recently launched a new ‘Hydrogen Hub’ initiative, aimed at promoting the uptake of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the UK.

Speaking to edie ahead of her appearance in a green fleet-focussed session at edie Live next month (scroll down for details), Ecuity’s consultant and programme leader for the Hydrogen Hub, Clare Jackson, claimed that hydrogen cars could share the future automotive market with electric vehicles (EV) by optimising a sharing economy policy.

The Hydrogen Hub is looking to use the sharing economy to promote this growth. The Hub is already in talks over numerous leasing models, to create shared-ownership deals that by-pass the costs associated with owning a hydrogen vehicle – which Jackson attributes to the low manufacturing numbers.

“Cars are set up for the sharing economy,” Jackson said. “If you have two vehicles which are better suited to different journeys and can serve different purposes then it makes more sense to share rather than own.

“We’re not going to rapidly move away from ownership, but we will see a greater increase in the sharing economy. The fuel cell industry is not anticipating that it will be the only green car of the future.

“We very much feel that there’s room for both vehicles in the market, and that they have different areas where their strengths lie. For shorter journeys around the city an EV is great, but for a vehicle to travel longer distances and take less time to fill up, then a fuel car cell is a better option. The future make-up of the UK and global vehicle mix will be a combination of the two.”

Much has been made about the steady growth of EVs in the automotive market. With Tesla announcing record sales for its new Model 3 – which hit $10bn in pre-orders within 36 hours – the general consensus is that the public are ready to steer away from diesel and petrol towards a low-carbon market.

And after spending 20 years being fine-tuned in R&D, hydrogen cars are finally beginning to filter into the market. The UK currently has two models available in the forms of the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai ix35 – the latter of which has been dispelling myths about driving range after shattering records during a demonstration drive in London last week.

While Tesla was introduced to disrupt the market and get big-brand car makers to follow suit, Jackson believes that having the endorsement of these brands at an early stage is proof that hydrogen is here to stay.

“Big brands are crucial to the deployment chances for hydrogen fuel cells,” she said. “When you’ve got big car manufacturers advocating this technology it adds credibility. It seems less scary investing in technology when it has a Hyundai or Toyota badge on the front.”

Chicken or egg?

But while hydrogen cars have endorsement at the ready, there is a risk that deployment and upscaling could be strangled by a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario over the growth of vehicles and infrastructure.

Jackson noted that the lack of availability of refuelling stations – confined in small numbers to areas around London and the South – is still an issue, as well as the fleeting number of hydrogen cars in production – the ix35 has 15 operational vehicles in the UK. But Jackson believes that the launch of the Hydrogen Hub could tackle these issues.

Established in January, and using Swindon as a focal point, the Hydrogen Hub has already received planning permission from local authorities to build a second refuelling station in the area. By acting as a bridge between authorities, businesses and suppliers, the Hub hopes to overcome these teething issues.

“Once the infrastructure is in place fuel cell cars have massive potential to decarbonise and green fleets,” Jackson said. “But we believe that infrastructure and vehicles with have to grow together, which is why set locations are important.

“If you can get industry, authorities and businesses all together to create demand then all of a sudden you’ve got the business case to put the infrastructure in. By having more than one fuelling station in a town, it increases the attractiveness of fuel cell cars and dominoes start falling which turns clusters into networks. But the two need to go hand in hand initially.”

Jackson also noted that the successful implementation of the leasing scheme in Aberdeen will create interest elsewhere – but only if businesses are prepared to get involved.

“Businesses must be prepared to integrate small numbers of hydrogen vehicles into their fleets and be prepared to work with manufacturers to iron out any kinks,” Jackson said. “It’s an opportunity to be involved with something very innovative and new, and it will do wonders for your carbon footprint.”

Clare Jackson at edie Live

Clare Jackson will be speaking at the Onsite Solutions Theatre at edie Live in May, discussing the approaches and options available to reduce the carbon impact of business fleets, alongside representatives from United Biscuits, Anglian Water and the Energy Savings Trust.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, then two days at edie Live will give you a free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

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