Three weeks ago, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) published a total cost of ownership report (TCO) for freight trucking decarbonization alternatives. It was immediately obvious to anyone involved in the space that something was deeply wrong.
There are three extraordinary claims in the study. The first claim is that manufacturing hydrogen at a refueling station from electricity and water would be cost competitive with diesel in 2030. The second claim is that the energy costs per kilometer will be only 50% more than using electricity in battery electric vehicles in 2030. The third claim is that hydrogen will be only 10% more expensive than using electricity in battery electric trucks in 2040 on a per kilometer energy basis.
This was obviously and clearly wrong to anyone who had spent any time objectively looking at transportation decarbonization. Very little investigation found that a fundamental error underlies the study, which was that green hydrogen was getting very preferential rates for electricity compared to battery electric charging. I wrote about this error, the requirement for not only additionality but also temporality and locality, how power purchase agreements actually worked and how the hydrogen favorable scenario would require Europe to ban electric vehicles in order for it to make sense.
In response, kind of, the ICCT published what they referred to as a rebuttal. This was both in the web pages of CleanTechnica and as a LinkedIn article. This was, frankly, depressing for me, so I have not bothered to respond for a few days. But yet, here I am, responding to a flawed comparison. It’s actually become worse for the ICCT, something I hadn’t thought possible.
Did they quote or accurately paraphrase the multiple criticisms? No, they merely stated that there was some confusion. Did their rebuttal actually rebut anything? No.
First, they agreed completely that I and others who merely glanced at the results were right without saying so. They stated that they are using cheaper rates for electricity for manufacturing hydrogen at truck refueling stations than for charging electric vehicles at exactly the same stations. Second, they tried to justify this. Third, there was a hidden big subsidy in the claims. Fourth, while I had been very clear what I was reacting to and quoting them explicitly, they didn’t bother to even link to the published criticisms. To be blunt, as far as I can tell from Google searches, the only person publishing criticisms of their flawed TCO is me so far.
“Unfortunately, several misinterpretations are swirling in the current conversation. Specifically, there is confusion around electricity costs and charging prices, around the impact of the type of consumer on electricity costs, and around our use of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to estimate the cost of producing green hydrogen.”
Criticisms outside of the four articles I’ve published have been limited to social media comments and private conversations as far as I am aware. This isn’t just ego on my part. They published without ensuring that their readers, who include policy makers and transportation strategists, could easily read the criticisms and evaluate them for themselves. If there are multiple ‘misinterpretations’, there is no linked evidence for this position or any statements about what the ‘misinterpretations’ are.
Further background discussions have been ongoing. One of my fairly regular correspondents in the past year is Jakob Rogstadius, Swedish senior researcher at RISE for Mobility and Systems. He and his team are working on a couple of projects related to decarbonizing ground freight transportation and I’ve been providing what insights and suggestions I can as a reviewer of the emerging material on a pro bono basis.
Rogstadius was more convinced than me by the rationalizations of the ICCT team. Possibly he found my not particularly academic and insufficiently respectful attitude to the researchers and the organization problematic. As I said to him on another topic — delivering energy to freight vehicles as they moved along roads — he shouldn’t mistake me for an academic.
From my perspective, this isn’t an academic discussion. I’m a pragmatic climate solutions analyst focused on accelerating sensible solutions and shutting down nonsense as fast and hard as possible. My goal is shifting as many of the trillions spent in the coming decades on climate solutions into more productive vs less productive solutions. The more and more billions of human beings who will be impacted more and more harshly each decade that we dither aren’t interested in academic debates and neither am I. This isn’t an abstract debate, but something that matters.
Frankly, the ICCT position is only defensible on purely academic grounds and only barely then. As I’ve said before, my understanding of the ICCT’s mandate is that they are not an academic organization, but one devoted to providing clear analysis to policy makers and transportation strategists. It’s clear to me and others looking in from the outside that they’ve failed in this.
Rogstadius, from his perspective, was defending the ICCT. He believed, based on his reading of the material, that I had “misread and compared a number without taxes and levies with one that includes those.” However, it was clear that wasn’t the case, despite the ICCT authors attempts to make this their claim.
I pointed Rogstadius to this table. I pointed to the €5.51 per kilogram cost of green hydrogen manufactured at the hydrogen refueling station. I cited the energy requirements for hydrogen electrolysis, dehydration, compression, recompression and pumping of 55 to 60 kWh per kilogram delivered to trucks. I pointed out that this meant that the retail cost of electricity delivered to the station, in the best possible case without being burdened with capital costs for equipment or profits for the refueling station owner were €0.10 per kWh, well below the best commercial rates for electricity.
He agreed, somewhat. The authors of the paper asserted some things which also didn’t stand up to scrutiny, primary among them a €0.10 cost per kWh of electricity as the basis of their calculations, and an assertion that this was a mere 40% below the costs of electricity for battery electric vehicles, something which only arrived at 2.2 times the cost of energy for hydrogen vs battery electric vehicles.
As a reminder, their interactive graphic on the ICCT website says only 10% higher costs for hydrogen trucking vs battery electric trucking for energy in 2040. How to square this weirdly round circle?
I went back to the 2022 paper that the ICCT researchers based their work on. I looked at the appendix, where the table of electricity rates made it clear that they were trying to assert that somehow in 2050 hydrogen refueling stations would actually be paying €0.075 per kWh, 25% cheaper electricity than the researchers were trying to claim in their defense. Even in their defense, they are being inaccurate and the numbers were deeply hard to defend.
It gets worse. They assert that battery electric vehicle charging would require a peak power supply of 20 MW while hydrogen would require only a peak of 1 MW. This, of course, requires ignoring the existing and consistently deployed ability to buffer charging power requirements with some batteries. It’s also assuming a few trucks a day refueling or charging, ignoring the rapidly increasing multitudes of electric vehicles which will share charging costs. As I noted in one assessment, their hydrogen scenario would require Europe to ban all electric vehicles of every size to make any sense.
If only these were the only problems, perhaps this would be defensible, if weak. However, their first extraordinary claim, that hydrogen would be cost competitive with diesel in 2030, depends on a €3 per kilogram subsidy for hydrogen.
“A 3-euro per kg hydrogen production subsidy can shorten the cost reduction trajectory by 10 years and could enable cost parity with diesel fuel on an energy basis before 2030.”
This quote is from the 2022 study. It makes it clear that the primary hydrogen scenario put forward in the 2023 total cost of ownership report requires a massive subsidy for hydrogen on top of much cheaper electricity for hydrogen in order to be merely 50% more expensive than battery electric vehicles. The only 10% more expensive in 2040 most likely requires the €3 per kilogram green hydrogen subsidy, cheaper electricity and ignoring temporality and locality in order to pencil out.
I’ve assembled a full list of the variances between the primary published scenarios for hydrogen and battery electric trucks. It’s sobering and dismaying.
• hydrogen electrolyzed at truck stops
• electricity costs of 10 cents per kWh in 2020 and 7.5 cents in 2050 via renewables power purchase agreements at LCOE rates at every truck stop
• €3 per kilogram green hydrogen subsidy
• no profits for truck stops for hydrogen sales
• One MW peak power demand
• 2% per year compounding cost reductions in electrolyzers and balance of plant
• 10%-18% increases in electrolyzer efficiency
• fuel cells becoming 71% cheaper
• 26% cheaper maintenance for fuel cell trucks after 2030
• truck stops selling pure oxygen byproduct to … someone
• full commercial rates for electricity with no access to PPAs
• no subsidies for battery electric vehicles or electricity
• profits for truck stops for electricity sales
• 20 MW peak power demand with no allowance for battery buffering that is already commonly used
• batteries becoming 53% cheaper (18% less decline than fuel cells)
• no reduction in electric truck maintenance costs
• no other electric vehicles of any size using charging to amortize costs
None of these extraordinary differences in treatment were called out in the primary ICCT page and interactive graphic. Most of these differences required digging through two reports and the rebuttal to assemble.
In other words, the thumb on the scale for hydrogen for trucking is two or three thumbs, and yet the ICCT still can’t make it fiscally competitive. The only good thing out of this entire mess is that they’ve agreed to model a scenario with equal costs of electricity and while still artificially deflated, the cost of hydrogen was still above the EU fever dreams of €2 per kilogram and lower. Will that new scenario replace the deeply misleading primary graphic on their website or be front and center to inform policy makers? No, they have only suggested that they will publish it in an appendix. One wonders why they are pressing so hard on one side of the scale when they simply can’t make the economics work. What is motivating them?
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