Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies: positive evaluations but low willingness-to-buy

What do normal citizens and experts think of hydrogen as a new source of energy? Together with ten European partners, the Fraunhofer ISI wanted to discover the answers to this question. The team of researchers questioned almost 7,500 individuals from seven European countries to determine their familiarity with, current attitudes towards and future expectations of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. This revealed that the technologies are basically positively perceived, but not well known and there is a low willingness to buy them.

Image credit: Toyota

Image credit: Toyota

The successful introduction of a new technology depends on its acceptance by the whole of society. This is why the acceptance of mobile and stationary hydrogen and fuel cell technologies is being studied on a broad scale in the “HYACINTH” project, funded by the European Union: The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI (Karlsruhe), the University of Leeds (United Kingdom) and the Research Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology (Barcelona, Spain) surveyed 7,148 citizens and 333 experts from the field of energy and hydrogen for the new study. The experts come from Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain and Slovenia; the ordinary citizens are from these five countries plus Belgium and Norway.

Together with the two scientific project partners, Dr. Elisabeth Dütschke and Uta Schneider from Fraunhofer ISI were responsible for designing and analysing the questionnaires.

Hydrogen technologies are known mainly in Germany and Norway

The citizens were first asked about their general familiarity with hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. On average, just over 40 percent of those questioned in all seven countries had heard of these technologies. Familiarity is above average in Germany and Norway but below average in Spain.

In addition, respondents evaluated stationary applications like heating systems for private homes based on fuel cells and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) and the related infrastructure. Here, it was revealed that only about one quarter of those questioned had heard about the heating systems. 64 percent of them would be in favour of installing such a system in their home – but only about 20 percent are actually considering buying one. The biggest obstacle is the high purchase price followed by the assumed lack of technological maturity.

Obstacles to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles: too expensive, not enough refueling stations

Mobile applications like FCEV are better known than stationary systems: Around 45 percent of the surveyed citizens had already heard of them – once again, the technology is better known in Germany and Norway.

In principle and assuming that all the vehicle’s features are identical to those of a conventional vehicle, there is a high willingness to buy, especially in Norway and Spain. However, only about 20 percent would actually seriously consider buying a FCEV when purchasing their next vehicle. Similar to the stationary applications, the high purchase price and doubts about technological maturity and market readiness deter people from buying. Another reason is the lack of refueling stations.

Experts call for more support of research and development

To start with, the experts were asked for a general assessment of hydrogen technologies: Almost 90 percent of them are in favour of these technologies as a possible solution to energy and environmental problems. They expect a particularly positive market development for hydrogen-powered buses followed by hydrogen-based systems for emergency or back-up power supply. In contrast, their least positive assessment was for the market introduction of large-scale prime power supply systems.

The experts then went on to assess either stationary or mobile applications in more detail. Similar to ordinary citizens, they see costs as the biggest challenge to stationary applications, and the low number of refueling stations as the most important challenge to hydrogen mobility. According to the experts, public acceptance will be positively influenced by the availability of green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy sources. In their opinion, the most urgent requirement is to develop the hydrogen infrastructure so that hydrogen-powered vehicles can become competitive with battery electric vehicles.

The detailed results of the survey have now been published in the specialist journal HZwei.

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