Annual Hydrogen Evaluation
The past year and a half of hydrogen station network development and FCEV deployment have undoubtedly been challenged by the statewide and global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, station network development was slower than expected and FCEV sales were significantly lower than in recent years. However, recent progress in both network development and FCEV sales signal a recovery is potentially underway. In addition, new station awards announced by the CEC through GFO-19-602 and recently announced plans for private development of additional stations have significantly improved the outlook for 2021 and beyond. Sales of FCEVs in the first quarter have already been nearly as much as all of 2019 and California’s network of Open-Retail hydrogen stations will continue to grow in 2021.
Future development of stations is currently projected to exceed prior expectations. This year’s report is the first to find that the 100-station target of AB 8 could be met by the end of 2023 based on stations that are currently Open-Retail or under development. Significant growth in the network is projected through 2026, to more than 176 stations across California. Auto manufacturers have improved their reported outlook on FCEV deployment potential and indicate more confidence in FCEV deployment potential than a year ago. By some metrics, the additional investments through GFO-19-602 and private efforts have also put the state’s hydrogen fueling network on a path similar to published scenarios estimated to lead to the hydrogen fueling industry’s financial self-sufficiency . Continued FCEV deployments will also be critical to maintaining this progress.
In 2019, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard program established the Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure (HRI) crediting provision to further support early hydrogen fueling network development. The HRI provision thus far appears to be an effective tool to support the development of hydrogen stations in California. Recent reporting from the 61 stations currently utilizing the HRI provision suggest they’ve dispensed hydrogen with an estimated 92 percent renewable content in 2021. There are also indications that the provision has had a role in station developers being able to build larger stations, build more stations than previously anticipated, and at some locations reduce the price that customers pay at the pump by approximately 20 percent.
As much promise as these indicators provide, significant work remains to ensure that network development remains on schedule, FCEV deployments accelerate, and that future opportunities for growth are realized. The more than 176 total station projects that are currently Open-Retail, under development, or expected for future development are unprecedented in California’s history. One-time funding provided by SB 129 will help close the gap to the 200-station goal of EO B-48-18. In addition, while auto manufacturers’ outlook for FCEV deployment in California has noticeably improved, the latest vehicle projections are, as of now, below the estimated total fueling potential provided by California’s developing network . As policymakers consider future investment decisions, tracking vehicle deployment projections will be important.
CARB sees significant potential for hydrogen fuel and FCEVs to contribute meaningfully to the State’s aggressive ZEV deployment and decarbonization goals, especially with the assurance provided by the latest station development plans. Hydrogen fueling station development and FCEV deployment have long been characterized as a chicken-and-egg problem. With AB 8, California took the first step to provide a solution to this problem by leading with fueling network development. With the addition of stations co-funded by the CEC under GFO-19-602 and through private funding, California now appears to have a chance to transform what was once considered a problem into an opportunity. Ensuring that success is met will require public and private stakeholders to aim for significantly accelerated market development, built on the foundation of the sizeable hydrogen fueling station network that is now underway.