What policy should be adopted to encourage deployment of hydrogen vehicles in France?

Based on the Norwegian experience with low-carbon vehicles, the authors analyse the hydrogen plan launched by Nicolas Hulot when he was Minister for Ecological and Solidarity Transition and make several recommendations.

Key Messages

  • The transition to clean mobility has two imperatives: at the global level the fight against climate change and at the regional level the fight against urban pollution, which results in premature death and numerous respiratory infections.
  • Norway’s experience with clean mobility, the most advanced country in this area, highlights several key factors for success: the importance of social awareness of the issues through a public policy involving large subsidies; the importance of public support for the deployment both of vehicles and of infrastructure; the risks of overly proactive national deployment in the absence of a strong technological and industrial base; and dependence on vehicle manufacturers’ international strategies.
  • The critical analysis of this experience lays the foundations for an optimal deployment economic model comprising three phases: take-off, powering up and cruising, with support policies adapted to each phase.
  • The deployment of hydrogen vehicles worldwide and manifestly in France is currently in the take-off phase, while battery powered electric vehicles are in the powering up phase. Different policies need to be implemented.
  • The plan for the deployment of hydrogen put forward by Nicolas Hulot in June 2018 can be interpreted in the light of this framework. Three recommendations emerge from this reading: (i) apart from light utility vehicles and taxi fleets, focus on buses, trucks, boats, and locomotives, where hydrogen now has a competitive advantage compared to battery use; (ii) consolidate the pilot projects and encourage their proliferation at a European level through coordination between major cities, since the interconnection between these areas can only be effective in the second stage; (iii) encourage R & D and investment for the production of carbon-free hydrogen, but using a CO2 benchmark price in cost-benefit analysis that goes well beyond the proposed value of €20/tCO2 so as to take advantage of experience and spread innovation.