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Free green energy doesn’t work: expert

H2 go: H2’s South Tyrol production centre makes clean, low cost hydrogen as an energy source for fuel cell vehicles, but its director says free energy sends the wrong message.

Head of leading European hydrogen centre wants alternative energy to ‘hurt a little’

General News logo16 Sep 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER in FRANKFURT

ONE of Europe’s leading alternative energy champions opposes the notion that clean energy should be cheaper or even free, compared to more environmentally damaging non-renewable sources of transport.

Hydrogen fuel infrastructure is steadily gaining momentum in Europe, with a growing network of refuelling stations increasing the feasibility of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

However, H2 Centre director Thomas Klauser – who heads up Italy’s first hydrogen centre, based in Bolzano, South Tyrol – argues that the fuel should cost at least as much as fossil-fuel alternatives.

During a visit to the H2 production and distribution centre Dr Thomas Klauser told GoAuto that free energy may attract motorists to greener technology, but would breed wasteful habits that are counterproductive.

“I think it’s very important so people don’t get the wrong idea,” he said.

“Alternative fuels and alternative mobility shouldn't be free, it shouldn’t even be at a lower cost (compared with conventional fuel) because you will create a lot of other problems.

“The streets are already crowded. We are already driving a lot and doing a lot of senseless drives with our cars, so it is very important to get the private mobility to be emissions free but not money-free.

“You will not solve the problems that we have in our cities and urban centres.”

Dr Klauser compared the notion of free transport to free electricity in homes, saying he believes occupants would not consider the conservation of energy in homes if a bill did not arrive at regular intervals.

“Everything that is free has no worth. It is the same with electricity,” he said.

“If you give it for free to the people they will consume without any reason and they will not try to consume any less. You can’t have energy consumption reduction if you give it for free.”

Dr Klauser said that reducing the number of cars on the road is unlikely and that emissions reduction is only possible if the correct measures are in place to cut noxious fuel use and at the same time encourage the public to only use their personal transport when necessary.

“You will not reduce it because we are used to our private mobility, but if it hurts a little but you will think over whether you go 200 metres with the car or not.”

Hyundai’s head of fuel-cell electric vehicles Frank Meijer likened the increasing emissions produced by today’s road transport to the London’s horse manure crisis of 1894, when the UK’s capital city horse transport system was at critical mass, producing a problematic quantity of animal waste.

The introduction of affordable personal transport solved the problem by offering a cleaner solution to horses, but in turn brought its own set of challenges that modern society is now trying to solve.

“Luckily the car came along because it got rid of a massive problem,” Mr Meijer said. “Now we have the problem of air quality but it is really just the same problem.”

Officially opened in June 2014, the H2 centre in Bolzano was set up by a combination of government and private funding, and produces enough hydrogen to refuel 100 to 200 cars per day, using electricity from renewable sources at off-peak times.

Privately owned hydrogen vehicles can be filled up at the site but the facility also supplies a fleet of five zero-emissions buses that provide public transport in the area, with 20 more buses due to be commissioned by 2018.

The centre also conducts research and development in the fields of alternative energy production, storage and transport, as well as the formulation of strategic political policies.

In the future, H2 plans to open more facilities along major transport routes from Italy and into Germany, creating a more attractive hydrogen network for motorists.

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