6th May 2021
Biden’s $15bn for hydrogen tech shows ambition to be clean energy world leader
Announcing his new Infrastructure Plan in Pittsburgh, President Biden used historic terms. “It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we have seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”1 The Biden administration is presenting this Plan as a bold, radical opportunity to reimagine American life for the 21st century, and in a massive boost for green energy investment, clean energy issues are woven through every strand of it.
It’s right there in the title for a start. Although the media tends to refer to it as the Biden Infrastructure Plan, and the White House prefers The American Jobs Plan, its full name is The Biden plan to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future.2 In the Biden plan, clean energy occupies center stage, not just to address climate change issues and prevent ongoing environmental damage, but also to bolster the American economy and restore America’s position as leader on a global stage.
Over and over again, the Biden Infrastructure Plan stresses that clean energy investment will drive the creation of strong, well-paying jobs that will stimulate economic growth. For example, President Biden proposes clean energy initiatives that will bring investment to neglected communities, such as siting 15 decarbonized hydrogen demonstration projects in distressed communities, while offering new production tax credits for capital-project retrofits and installations that advance industrial decarbonization.3
The significance of clean energy goes beyond climate change
It’s arguable that the push to increase investment in green batteries and EVs is as much about “positioning the US as the world’s clean energy leader”4 as it is about addressing climate change and meeting zero emissions targets. The specter of China, in particular, looms large over the Biden plan and probably plays a large role in driving its clean energy efforts. Writing in the AP News, Zeke Miller and Kevin Freking point out that the plan “is also an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world’s second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.”5
In the race for control over clean energy production, China is currently in the lead, but Biden seems determined to close the gap, with heavy investment in clean energy R&D and government support for clean energy infrastructure. “China is on track to command more than four times the global market share compared to the U.S. in electric vehicle (EV) production,” observes President Biden on his campaign website. “Biden will use all the levers of the federal government, from purchasing power, R&D, tax, trade, and investment policies to reverse this trend and position America to be the global leader in the manufacture of electric vehicles and their input materials and parts.”6
It’s an attitude driven as much by the political desire to outpace the country that is currently the US’ greatest economic and military threat, as by a strategic need to regain control over clean energy production. China “hawks” will sleep better at night knowing that the CCP doesn’t hold the global keys to renewable, green energy, perceived by some to be the energy of the future. The Biden plan also states its aim to increase US energy resilience by nurturing a home-grown clean energy supply chain and reducing reliance on rare earth minerals, 97% of which are controlled by China.7 Additionally, it’s likely that the US government wishes to storm the ethical, environmentally-friendly high ground so that China’s leadership can no longer occupy it.
However you slice it, all of this is good news for clean energy markets and green power stocks, both in the US and overseas, as foreign governments are likely to ramp up their own clean energy efforts in response. Business consultants PWC comment that “The American Jobs Plan features a wide array of proposals that, if enacted, likely would encourage investment in lower-carbon technologies and other elements of infrastructure intended to move the economy toward ESG goals. It would represent a significant step towards widespread adoption and promotion of these technologies by businesses and individuals.”8
What does Biden’s plan promise for the clean energy sector?
The Biden plan promises investment and support for clean energy initiatives across a number of sectors, including improving infrastructure like power grids to prevent blackouts on the scale of that which recently occurred in Texas; the development of advanced nuclear power stations; and funding for innovation in clean energy supply chains, negative emissions technology, and next-generation hydrogen electrolyzers that enable lower-cost, renewable hydrogen production. President Biden committed to achieving a carbon-neutral, American-made power sector by 2035, allocating $100 billion in programs to update and modernize the electric grid.9
Reducing carbon emissions from public transportation, at the same time as updating and improving public transport services around the country, is high on the list of priorities. $174 billion goes to encouraging development, manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles through tax credits and other incentives, as well as $46 billion for government agencies to purchase EV fleets, subsidies for 500,000 EV charging stations, and a commitment to train workers in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) and make all new US-built buses be zero-emissions by 2030.10
In terms of industry, the Biden plan offers tax credits and incentives that encourage the decarbonization of high-polluting industrial processes like steel production, concrete, and chemicals manufacturing. The Plan essentially stripped tax credits off fossil fuel companies and handed them to clean energy companies instead. PWC noted that “As part of the President’s commitment to put the country on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, the plan would eliminate tax preferences for fossil fuels, including subsidies, loopholes, and special foreign tax credits for the fossil fuel industry.”11There’s a lot to encourage the growing green hydrogen market, in particular, with green hydrogen tipped as one of the best replacements for fossil fuels and the Plan offering $15 bn for emerging energy technologies like hydrogen.12
Hydrogen for clean energy production
Hydrogen is abundantly available across the planet, primarily as a compound with oxygen. Hydrogen fuel producers use electrolyzers to release the hydrogen molecules, then store and transport the hydrogen in pressurized containers until it is transferred to a fuel cell so the energy can be released as electricity. Thanks to its energy-dense nature, hydrogen is able to supply the long-duration discharge cycles, so it can collect excess energy and release it at times and places of peak demand. Until recently, most hydrogen fuel was termed “gray hydrogen,” because the electrolysis was powered by fossil fuels, but “green hydrogen” produced using renewable power is becoming more affordable and accessible. The price of hydrogen electrolyzers has fallen 50% since 2015, and is expected to drop another 40-60% by 2030, at the same time as renewable energy capacity continues to rise, predicted to increase tenfold by 2050.13
Although green hydrogen is currently more expensive than power based on fossil fuels, the balance is shifting rapidly, helped by policies such as the Biden Infrastructure Plan. Today, one kg of green hydrogen costs around $3-7.5, but that could fall to around $1-2/kg by 2050. A report from the California Energy Commission calculated that by 2025, the cost of running a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle, mile for mile, would be approximately the same as running a similar vehicle on gasoline, even before taking into account the impact of any carbon emissions tax. The commission concluded that “with appropriate policy support, the renewable hydrogen sector can reach self-sustainability (price point at parity with conventional fuel on a fuel-economy adjusted basis) by the mid- to late 2020s.”14 Judging by the Biden Infrastructure Plan, appropriate policy support is on its way.
A number of initiatives are underway around the world, combining green hydrogen generation with other clean energy projects to improve the efficiency and further lower the cost of green hydrogen production. A consortium including green hydrogen company ITM Power recently won a grant to develop an offshore wind-powered hydrogen plant that would help green hydrogen prices compete with those of natural gas and open up bulk markets for green hydrogen.15 Other companies are working on hydrogen microgrids, hydrogen fuel cell modules for hydrogen-powered trucks, buses, and trains, and hydrogen power plants, showing the breadth of potential for green hydrogen in the long term. Hydrogen infrastructure is burgeoning across the world, with 7 active hydrogen refueling stations in the US and 43 in the US.16 There are fuel-cell busses operational in Asia, Europe, the UK, and Canada;17 thousands of fuel-cell trucks operating worldwide;18 and hydrogen fuel stock is under examination for industrial feedstock and heating, aerospace, shipping, and power generation use cases.
While there is widespread concern about whether the Biden plan will pass, the clean energy market is looking hopeful. Nasdaq reports that stock prices for green energy companies jumped following the announcement of the Biden Plan.19 Among the 15 stocks that Kiplinger has tipped for investment in the wake of the Biden Plan, you’ll find Chargepoint Holdings, which builds charging stations for EVs; clean energy management companies like Eaton; and auto manufacturers that produce EVs.20 Overall, fear of climate change, anxiety over China, and a desire to restore America’s leadership position could produce political decisions that bring positive results for the clean energy market.
1 “Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy” March 31, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/business/economy/biden-infrastructure-plan.html
3 “Biden infrastructure plan includes numerous ESG proposals” April 2021 https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/tax/library/biden-infrastructure-plan-includes-numerous-esg-proposals.html
5 “Biden announces huge infrastructure plan to ‘win the future’” April 1, 2021 https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-technology-coronavirus-pandemic-pittsburgh-jen-psaki-8865ffc8f5ad3142155a5bd3c3a3e6d3
7 “China’s Monopoly on Rare Earth Elements – And Why We Should Care”, October 7, 2020 https://www.fpri.org/article/2020/10/chinas-monopoly-on-rare-earth-elements-and-why-we-should-care/
8 “Biden infrastructure plan includes numerous ESG proposals” April 2021 https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/tax/library/biden-infrastructure-plan-includes-numerous-esg-proposals.html
9 “Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy” March 31, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/business/economy/biden-infrastructure-plan.html
11 “Biden infrastructure plan includes numerous ESG proposals” April 2021 https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/tax/library/biden-infrastructure-plan-includes-numerous-esg-proposals.html
12 “Biden proposal seeks billions of dollars to advance climate change agenda” March 31, 2021, https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/biden-proposal-seeks-billions-of-dollars-to-advance-climate-change-agenda-2021-03-31
13 “Thematic Investing: The Special 1 – Hydrogen primer,” Bank of America Securities, Global Research, 23 September 2020, p.5.
14 “Roadmap for the Deployment and Buildout of Renewable Hydrogen Production Plants in California. CEC. Publication Number: CEC-600-2020-002” Reed, Jeffrey, Emily Dailey, Brendan Shaffer, Blake Lane, Robert Flores, Amber Fong, G. Scott Samuelsen. 2020. https://cafcp.org/sites/default/files/Roadmap-for-Deployment-and-Buildout-of-RH2-UCI-CEC-June-2020.pdf
15 “Consortium receives funding to investigate offshore hydrogen production” Press Release, January 8, 2021 https://www.itm-power.com/news/5m-eu-award-to-study-offshore-green-hydrogen-production-with-orsted-and-siemens-gamesa
16 “Thematic Investing: The Special 1 – Hydrogen primer,” Bank of America Securities, Global Research, 23 September 2020, p.54.
17 “Emerging opportunities in the hydrogen market,” Rachel Crouch, December 9, 2020. https://www.projectfinance.law/publications/2020/december/emerging-opportunities-in-the-hydrogen-market/
19 “Biden proposal seeks billions of dollars to advance climate change agenda” March 31, 2021, https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/biden-proposal-seeks-billions-of-dollars-to-advance-climate-change-agenda-2021-03-31
20 “15 Best Infrastructure Stocks for Biden’s American Jobs Plan” April 14, 2021, https://www.kiplinger.com/investing/stocks/stocks-to-buy/602447/best-infrastructure-stocks-biden-next-spending-plan