What policies for the hydrogen sector? Lessons from city buses

Hydrogen is a possible alternative to the internal combustion engine, alongside battery-powered vehicles, in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as- sociated with transport activities. The costs associated with hydrogen vehicles are currently high, even when considering the greenhouse gas emissions and other pol- lutants avoided by their use. Efforts to reduce these costs, which will determine the social and environmental desirability of hydrogen vehicles, face two challenges : the high cost of refueling, linked to the crucial problem of coordination between deve- lopment of the vehicle fleet and refueling infrastructure; and high purchase prices, which may decrease when sufficient quantities generate experience effects. This po- licy brief argues that each of these two handicaps calls for a specific policy design : at a local level for coordination between actors, and at a European level to generate sufficient volumes. The example of hydrogen-powered urban buses offers a telling illustration of these issues.

  • The growing importance of the hydrogen sector has been encouraged by various initiatives in France. These initiatives are based on the idea of a regional ecosystem : around a city, a network of local communities, or even a depart- ment or a region.
  • The example of hydrogen buses shows that the abatement costs induced by this technology are still too high. The problem lies both in the price of the ve- hicles and the supply of fuel.
  • Reducing the costs associated with the supply of fuel requires the resolution of coordination problems linked to network effects, which calls for a response at the local level.
  • Achieving vehicle purchase prices low enough to be competitive requires a European approach, which alone makes it possible to reach significant volumes.