Big Hydrogen doesn’t want you to read this

Some people go into business to make money. Others do it to make fuel cells.

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Some people go into business to make money. Others do it to make fuel cells.

That’s the takeaway from Eric Wesoff’s latest survey of the most profitable publicly traded fuel cell companies. I don’t want to give away the ranking, so you should take a look at the article for the big reveal.

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I will say that not a lot has changed in fuel-cell business performance since Wesoff’s sectoral analysis five years ago. But during that interval, discussion of hydrogen as a pillar of the low-carbon economy has surged. The hydrogen economy” became a cliché before hydrogen companies proved they could sell a product and make sustainable revenue.

One difference this time is that hydrogen stocks actually did extremely well in 2020.

It’s a reminder that investor excitement around clean energy is flowing into a limited selection of publicly traded companies. There are many reasons to bet on the low-carbon future, but the macro story doesn’t make every clean energy business a winner. 

If there’s a note of optimism for fuel cells, it’s in this chart that transposes the production curves of wind turbines, solar panels and fuel cells from different points in time. By that rough metric, fuel-cell production is 15 years behind the solar industry. The growth spurt could be just a few years off.

If it comes, it will be because these companies work hard to show that fuel cells perform specific tasks better than incumbent technologies — or better than the alternatives available in a low-carbon regulatory environment. 

Coincidentally, I saw one promising use for hydrogen firsthand at the Port of Long Beach last week. Keep a weather eye on the horizon for my report.

In other news:

Why U.S. utilities must cut carbon emissions faster — and how data can help get it done

A new report from RMI sets a tough schedule for closing fossil-fueled power plants. Its Utility Transition Hub compiles the data to help find a way. Read more →

Are market constraints hampering the evolution of last-mile’ grid resources?

Future grids will need assets on standby for times when there isn’t enough wind and solar. But how will these assets be valued and compensated? Read more →

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(Image: Quantum Hydrogen on Graphene” by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.