Stanford Study Tips Toward Electric Over Hydrogen for Cars and Energy

A Stanford study implies Tesla, with its battery electric vehicles and solar company, will be better positioned than companies like Toyota who think hydrogen beats electric.

Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project has found that all-electric vehicles make for a more economical choice for reducing carbon dioxide emissions due to their lower cost and significantly higher energy efficiency. Hydrogen offers few additional energy benefits besides only emitting water vapor from fuel-cell cars, the study said.

“Studies such as these are needed to identify the lowest cost and most efficient pathways to deep decarbonization of the global energy system,” said Sally Benson, professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford and director of GCEP.

The study used Los Alto Hills, a town located near Stanford in Northern California, as a typical California community in the state leading the U.S. in electric car adoption. Assumptions where made in the study on forecasting energy use in the year 2035. One assumption was that excess solar power would be used to power electrolyzers to make hydrogen from water, and that the cost would be competitive with electricity from the grid.

Data was provided on amount energy the town used throughout a typical day, along with financial data on the cost of building new energy infrastructures. The cost of making electrolyzers, solar panels, batteries, and all other components, were included.

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The researchers calculated the carbon dioxide emissions produced in each case and assessed the potential benefits of using the hydrogen infrastructure to store clean energy for use on demand.

“In terms of overall costs, we found that battery electric vehicles are better than fuel cell vehicles for reducing emissions,” said the study. “The analysis showed that to be cost competitive, fuel cell vehicles would have to be priced much lower than battery vehicles.

“However, fuel cell vehicles are likely to be significantly more expensive than battery vehicles for the foreseeable future. Another supposed benefit of hydrogen—storing surplus solar energy—didn’t pan out in our analysis either. We found that in 2035, only a small amount of solar hydrogen storage would be used for heating and lighting buildings.”

Tesla could be well positioned to serve consumers interested in reducing emissions through driving electric cars and producing and storing clean energy to power their house and car, said the study. Its Tesla Energy subsidiary is working with partner company SolarCity to generate solar power and store it in lithium-ion batteries.

While the Stanford study focused on one Bay Area town, the results are relevant for many communities with ample sunlight across California, the study said.

“Our goal is to provide objective, data-driven analysis to help inform policymakers in California and elsewhere about which technology pathway is likely to be more cost-effective in combating climate change,” the study said.

The study was funded by GCEP and BMW Group.

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