Over the past year or so, as the hydrogen for energy hype bubble has started to leak badly, a clear indicator of the end times for hydrogen energy proponents has started to emerge, anger and hostility. Why is this a clear indicator?
Let’s cast our minds back eight years. Sometime before then I’d created the above continuum of climate change denial positions, from utter and mind-boggling refusal to accept reality all the way to the tiny category of people who thought it would be worse than it is going to be. As I noted at the time, Climate Change Deniers Are Getting Angrier & Here’s Why.
As I observed, it was all about cognitive dissonance. What’s that?
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
Yes, when people are bombarded by data, facts and logic which contradict their biases, they feel uncomfortable. They are stressed. If they don’t resolve this by embracing it, considering the facts and logic and improving their positions to accommodate reality, then it builds up. That was happening more and more to climate change deniers a decade ago and they were lashing out enough for it to be obvious even to me and I’m kind of oblivious to most of that kind of thing.
This is a resonant time to be bringing up the anger of denialists. Famed climate scientist Michael Mann, who I had the privilege to spend a bit of time with recording a CleanTechnica podcast a few years ago and who quoted one of my whatever-you-call-tweets-now in a recent book, is suffering through PTSD relapse in a court room as his deeply idiotic slanderers cross-examine him or shift uneasily in their slime-filled seats. Mann and his family suffered a lot of stress and anguish from the unthinking anger of climate change denialists — and people who should know better — and he decided to sue the worst of them for defamation.
Yes, you heard me right, one of the defendants, Mark Steyn, is defending himself, which means he has a fool for a lawyer and a jackass for a client, as if there were any doubt about him being either. He had no choice, one assumes, because his lawyers abandoned him in 2021.
As a reminder, Steyn and his fellow idiot defendant Rand Simberg — a man who denies saying things he’s already said under oath and who continues to malign under oath experts who he didn’t even bother to look up — asserted stridently, regularly and often that the hockey stick of of temperatures that Mann first published was a hoax and false while it has been established to be completely accurate and valid by something like two dozen separate studies. This is about as well established as science gets. It’s not even a model, it’s just reporting on reality.
Mann was one of the early victims of the anger of denialists. He felt it long before I noticed it and now a dozen years later his vicious detractors are showing once again their colors in court. It’s not a pleasing palette.
What does this have to do with hydrogen for energy types?
Well, over the past 25 years, people who thought hydrogen was the bee’s knees, like climate change deniers, have been forced off position after position. To be clear, these are people who accepted the reality of climate change and were usually sincerely trying to do something about it. This is not synonymous with climate change denial except where it is. I’ll get to that.
Let’s step through this abbreviated infographic briefly. Around 2000, it was possible with only slightly rose-colored glasses to think that hydrogen was going to be the energy source for everything everywhere all the time. Jeremy Rifkin, author, economist, STEM illiterate and advisor to power brokers on both sides of the Atlantic certainly did and helped make it a policy on two continents. To be clear, 25 years ago there wasn’t really an alternative and even the few people who realized how absurdly costly this was going to be grimaced and swallowed it. Unchecked climate change would be worse than the cost of a hydrogen economy.
But every time it’s been tried out or serious spreadsheet jockeys have plied their data scalpels since, it’s been failing compared to alternatives. Batteries, grid ties and biofuels have been kicking hydrogen to the curb in every energy domain where rational total cost of ownership assessment studies have been performed. Every time the systems boundary includes alternatives the analysis shows that hydrogen is a mug’s game.
And it’s getting worse and worse. Long held assumptions about different aspects of cost cases are falling apart due to little things like data, evidence and math. The Boston Consulting Group published a gloomy assessment saying that the consensus of €3 per kilogram green hydrogen in 2030 — a consensus shared among STEM illiterate fantasists and hydrogen for energy advocates, if that’s not a redundancy — wasn’t going to be achieved and that more realistic costs would be €5 to €8.80. They didn’t say that the upper end of that range was more likely, but it is.
So much for fantasies of US$1.40 hydrogen that think tanks like the International Council on Clean Transportation included in their publications. That’s so far off of reality that it’s difficult to imagine what their analyst was thinking.
The International Energy Agency published an e-fuels for transportation assessment late in 2023 which had some eye widening findings, although not for me or anyone who has spent any time doing realistic cost workups in the space. They found that in the absolutely best case scenarios synthetic fuels made from green hydrogen would cost four to six times as much as current fuels. That’s far above the assumption of hydrogen for energy fantasists who thought that they would be cost competitive with fossil fuels, never mind biofuels.
And this month the Transportation & Environment research and policy advocacy group in Europe reported that 25 of 25 synthetic kerosene for aviation proposals failed to reach final investment decision because they couldn’t find any airlines willing to pay ten times the cost of current fuels.
BCG again reported, albeit without realizing what they were reporting, that only 0.2% of hydrogen proposals by volume had reached operation, an infinitesimal level. BNEF reported that only 13% of hydrogen deals they were tracking that had reached final investment decision had off takers and that only 10% of those were firm. The International Energy Agency reported that only 7% of the theoretically required hydrogen supplies for 2030 were likely to be present.
Into this swirling mix of painful reality I’ve been casting my own meager offerings. In recent months I’ve been assessing the International Council on Clean Transportation’s reports and finding that they diverged quite substantially from reality and quality control after 2020 as they tried to find a way to justify hydrogen energy pathways being cheaper than they could possibly be. I have been publishing on green hydrogen and synthetic fuel pathways for maritime shipping and aviation compared to obvious alternatives and saying the bleedingly obvious, that hydrogen and synthetic fuels are so economically uncompetitive that they won’t be used.
I’ve been assessing the poorly bounded assessments of HVDC vs hydrogen pipelines that fail so many tests of basic systems engineering. I’ve been digging through the tragicomic history of hydrogen transportation fleets, where the pattern is so obvious it’s become a pantomime. I spent time with the decarbonization lead for A.P. Moller Maersk division APM Terminal’s decarbonization lead talking about why hydrogen makes no economic sense for transporation.
I’ve been observing and occasionally commenting on the UK attempts to shove an explosive round peg into the square hole of home heating with its hydrogen village trials, when now 54 independent studies make it clear that hydrogen has exactly no role to play in residential or commercial buildings.
More recently, I was asked to assist in quality reviewing a European total cost of ownership study of multiple pathways to road freight decarbonization. As a result, I started poking at assumptions around hydrogen vehicle and refueling station maintenance costs. I found that instead of being only as expensive as internal combustion vehicles or even cheaper, hydrogen buses in California were 50% more expensive than diesel buses to maintain even after years in service and twice as expensive as battery electric buses. And I found that hydrogen refueling stations were costing what an at least somewhat validated methodology found to be 30% of capital expenditures per year to maintain instead of 3% or 4% as assumed by total cost of ownership studies.
And so, back to the thread. Across this broad engagement where sanity and rational thought is breaking through about 25 years of of hydrogen for energy inertia, I’ve been seeing a lot of anger directed in a variety of directions. A lot of knees have been hitting noses while attached to jerks. Whatever twitter is called these days is filled with even more frothy diatribes. LinkedIn has been seeing its share as well.
My acquaintance Tom Baxter, chemical engineer Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen and generally delightful bearded Scotsman was accused of being a bitter troll by a UK gas utility CEO. The same CEO blocked me after a single comment suggesting that the firm needed to be considering strategic distribution network downsizing.
A major manufacturer’s hydrogen lead snapped at me in a professional thread for, you know, pointing out relevant but inconvenient truths. A major cleantech think tank’s hydrogen lead kept poking me on social media until I dropped a 13,000 word critique of his team’s positions in his lap. Comments on my articles and on LinkedIn have filled up with aggrieved souls fighting for their dream of hydrogen in their cars, their stoves, their furnaces and in their water. Etc, etc, etc.
All of this has been playing out on other people’s threads. I’ve observed hydrogen “Ambassadors” whining about basic data and logic. I’ve seen chemical engineers with decades of hydrogen experience described as ignorant haters.
It’s taken a lot of blocking and muting to bring the aggravated dyspepsia quotient in my various feeds down to merely a dull roar. The cognitive dissonance of the hydrogen for energy crowd is growing daily and for running the numbers and pointing out other people who are running the numbers I’m getting a bit of grief, while others are getting more grief.
Nothing like what Michael Mann experienced thankfully, but it’s in the same context, people not accepting reality and lashing out in anger. You would think that hydrogen for energy advocates would realize that these were terrible optics, not to mention dumb as a box of oiled velveteen hammers, but no, they are too busy whacking their septum with their patella to notice that other people are looking at them as if they had three eyes.
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