The Emerging Hydrogen Economy and the Quest for Faster Horses

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Recent improvements and price declines associated with wind, solar and battery technologies have disrupted energy markets and created new hope for addressing the climate crisis. However, questions remain regarding the feasibility of scaling up these technologies to more comprehensively meet society’s energy needs. This essay compares the rapid deployment of wind/solar/battery technology to other disruptive innovations that have transformed society. Specifically, innovations brought to market in the last century by Henry Ford (the Model T and the Assembly Line) are analyzed in detail, and lessons learned from their diffusion are applied to the future of energy technology. Many policy makers, anxious to find carbon free sources of energy, have acknowledged the recent advances in wind/solar/battery technologies. A vast array of policy and financial incentives have been implemented globally to encourage production and deployment of these technologies. However, challenges persist with respect to the intermittency of power generated by wind and solar systems. Additionally, the need for large capacity energy storage options that are economical, equitable, and mobile, far exceeds anticipated advances in battery technology. Lessons learned from studying the diffusion of Henry Ford’s innovations suggest that a hydrogen economy will likely become our best option for enabling complete deployment of CO2 free energy.

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