In January 2003, President Bush announced his Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. The president, according to a White House press release, "envisions the transformation of the nation's transportation fleet from a near-total reliance on petroleum to steadily increasing use of clean-burning hydrogen." But as we've just seen, there are barriers that prevent this vision from becoming a reality in the near future. Let's review.
The first barrier we've already talked about. Hydrogen won't be a "clean-burning" fuel until its technology allows us to stop using a fossil fuel to produce hydrogen fuel. As it stands now, that's just transferring using fossil fuel in cars to using it at some earlier point in the transportation chain.
The second thing we have to question is the amount of money being committed to the development of a "hydrogen economy." Depending on how you break down the numbers cited, the U.S. commitment to the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative is anywhere from $2.9 to $3.6 billion over a period of five years. Now, any one of us, our whole large extended family, our five dearest friends, our closest neighbor, and the horse he rode in on could live exceptionally well for five years on $2.9 billion. But let's put $2.9 billion into perspective as a reasonable amount of funding for a project that is supposed to build the foundation for a whole new economy—reverse climate change, avert an energy crisis, and enhance national security by removing our dependence on foreign oil: The United States currently spends $195 million a day fighting a war in Iraq, blowing through several billion every few months. In a little less than two months, more funding is poured into this military action than is devoted to a solution to our energy crisis in over five years. In contrast, California, one individual state, has pledged to spend $3 billion to develop its solar power capacity, just one type of renewable energy. If we intended to be serious about the dream of a hydrogen economy, we'd have to equip researchers with serious money so they could work more efficiently, and more expeditiously, to develop the technology to its maturity.
Now let's consider one final problem with the hydrogen economy, the third obstacle we'd have to surmount to make a hydrogen-fueled world possible: The president's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative doesn't call for the consumer to have a choice about juicing up a hydrogen car until 2020. That timeline fits in well with the estimates of researchers and carmakers for bringing hydrogen technology to maturity. But we can't wait until 2020 to start making the changes that will reverse climate change, avert an energy crisis, and enhance national security.
Hydrogen technology, for all of its real potential benefits, is not a near-term solution to our energy challenge. We need to be able to make realistic choices now while planning for our long-term energy future.
Our first choice has got to be to pass legislation that increases fuel efficiency standards for cars. Plain and simple. Without question, that is the first step that will provide us with immediate and important relief.
Next, we need to form meaningful collaborations among governments, industry, and private partners to develop and implement the renewable technologies that will provide us with clean energy as our sources of fossil fuels dwindle. This means a sustained conviction to supply consumers with electricity generated with the power of the sun, home heating generated with geothermal power from the earth, fuel for our cars made from plants that grow, as well as the ability to manufacture hydrogen fuel using the power of the wind.
Focusing myopically on hydrogen technology as the sole answer to our energy challenge is wasteful of time, of the finite resources we do have in hand, and of the mature renewable technologies that already exist. Meeting our future energy needs will require a variety of strategies. Fortunately, we have a real abundance of viable alternatives. In the next three chapters we talk in depth about why it's necessary to pursue diverse strategies, and just what all of those strategies are.
Excerpted from Green: Your Place in the New Energy Revolution by Jane Hoffman and Michael Hoffman. Copyright © 2008 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’'s Press, LLC.