California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairman Mary Nichols characterized the sometimes contentious, ideological debate between those who advocate for hydrogen fuel cells and those who advocate for batteries as the ultimate enabler of low-carbon transportation as “madness” from the point of view of a regulator.
Chairman Nichols made the comment during a keynote at the third annual UC Berkeley Energy Symposium, presented by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), that focused on policy and legislative activity in the context of California’s climate change efforts.
We need to be able to find ways to set goals that are ambitious and keep ourselves moving forward towards those prizes...the kinds of things that politicians who get elected for two- or four-year terms can boldly announce and have their blueprints for. At the same time we have to recognize that science and other things can sometimes get in the way of implementing those big goals in exactly the way that we initially planned, and that when we try to get too prescriptive about how to do it, or to come down on the side of favoring one particular technology over another, in the regulatory world, we end up in the midst of pitched battles between engineers that do nothing to advance the cause.
There is one thing that has really frustrated me in the last couple of years...it has been the ideological, I would almost say theological, debate between the people who think that hydrogen fuel cells are the answer and the people who think that only battery electric vehicles are the answer. Each of them do their best to trash the credibility, viability and good faith of the other side.
It may be that we feel a need as humans to be passionate about our particular solutions to whatever the technology is, but from the point of view of a regulator, this is madness.
We know that we need both. We have to have a climate in which we can be moving forward at the same time with more than one technology, and still have progress on all of these fronts.
Responding to a question as to exactly why she saw a need for both, Nichols said that on the battery side, there still wasn’s a battery with sufficient capacity capable of taking a vehicle without pause the same kind of distances that people are used to being able to travel. There also is not, she added, a battery which is usable for some of the long-range heavy duty applications of hauling goods around in trucks and other kinds of vehicles. And third, she pointed out, “not every state is California” when it comes to the carbon footprint of power generation. “Recharging a battery is a much cleaner operation here than in Illinois.” At the same time, she added, there are issues with hydrogen and fuel cells.
I would argue that at the end of the day, in this country, we are going to need a mix of types of vehicles, that we will have battery electric, we will have advanced hybrids and we will have fuel cell vehicles all operating successfully in different places within the next 20 years or so, and that that’s a good thing.