Do hydrogen powered vehicles have a future in Australia?

To discuss the future of hydrogen powered vehicles in Australia I think it’s quite pertinent to look at the current status of electric vehicles here.

Our Australian federal government has, until recently, shown complete disinterest in electric vehicles. That’s changed now, but not in a positive way. The government has noticed that electric vehicles don’t use petrol (!) and therefore income from petrol tax will decline if they become popular. Petrol tax currently runs at about AU$0.41 per litre (about 30% of the cost per litre). It’s indexed, so it keeps going up every six months, and therefore is key to balancing the federal budget. So unlike other countries that have cash and other incentives to buy electric vehicles, Australian has none, and the government is looking for new ways to tax electric vehicles to make up for lost petrol tax revenue they will cause. It’s not surprising then that Australia has one of the lowest take-ups of electric vehicles, and that’s in a country that must import petroleum! One other aspect that distorts the picture in Australia is that it does not have a carbon pricing scheme, and that translates into little interest in reducing carbon emissions. So, two important benefits of electric vehicles, less pollution and reduced dependency on imported petroleum, don’t come into play.

Getting back to hydrogen, I can’t see why the government attitude towards vehicles powered by hydrogen would be substantially different to electric vehicles. Added to that, the recharging network for hydrogen powered vehicles appears to be non-existent at present, and they would be playing catch-up to the admittedly sparse electric charging stations.

So why does the Australian government have a sudden interest in hydrogen? I think it’s mainly seen as a new export industry. Natural gas was the same, and is now a huge export industry. Bizarrely, overseas demand for natural gas is now so strong that it has become unaffordable in Australia. The same might well happen with hydrogen.

Two interesting references:

Hydrogen for Australia’s future A briefing paper for the COAG Energy Council Prepared by the Hydrogen Strategy Group August 2018

Hydrogen: Has Its Time Come? By Professor Michael Brear, University of Melbourne

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