Hydrogen Hype: Another Government Flop in The Making

  • Date: 10/02/13
  • Mike Rutherford, The Sunday Times

Forget Mystic Meg. How’s this for a forecast from no less than three government departments? A report last week, prepared by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, together with industry, ambitiously concluded that at least 1.5m of us will be driving vehicles powered by hydrogen precisely 17 years from now. Or, to be more precise, we “could” be. Just as Greenland’s glaciers “could” melt and leave you up to your chin in thawed water. And Beyoncé could buy me a pint on Valentine’s Day before we go back to hers for a nightcap.

The last time the government dabbled in and tried to influence the cars we buy and run, it was rechargeable vehicles. Electric cars got the politicians and their pals moist with excitement. They were so convinced by them that they subsidised them with £5,000 handouts to buyers. It was almost as if they’d decided, or were led to believe, that internal combustion was on the way out and the all-electric was the only car for the future.

To date, all-electric cars have flopped in the showrooms. Surprise, surprise — consumers haven’t bought into the electric car hype.

Realising, perhaps, that the case for electric cars is melting faster than a chocolate radiator, the politicians have suddenly jumped onto the next passing bandwagon, if you’ll excuse the multiple metaphors. Now it’s the hydrogen fuel-cell car that’s flavour of the month. Until a better idea comes along and grabs their attention. Could it be the flying car, maybe? Who knows?

Interestingly, the government report, produced under the banner of  UKH2Mobility, was compiled with the help of certain car makers, including Toyota. Last week the company stood by its figure of more than 1.5m hydrogen-powered vehicles on Britain’s roads just 17 years from now. The next day it backtracked, insisting that this figure was “incorrect” before stating that “the forecast is 300,000 by 2030”, only to revert to its original 1.5m-plus prediction later in the day. What’s the caper?

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