On Wednesday, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that the state landed a new “gigafactory” that will bring a $400 million investment and generate 500 jobs. That gigafactory will be run by Norwegian company Nel Hydrogen and will be used to create components needed to generate hydrogen gas.
That factory comes in part due to some necessary courting and negotiating with foreign companies by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. However, Whitmer is quick to point out that it would not have happened were it not for the funding provided through President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Thanks to that act and other Biden-sponsored legislation like the Chips and Science Act, private companies have already announced $435 billion in manufacturing and clean energy investments in the United States.
It’s not only funding projects that are quickly increasing the amount of renewable energy used in many states, it’s also creating a way that renewable energy can be moved over long distances, or even shipped overseas in the form of clean-burning hydrogen. In fact, the United States is becoming a hub for this technology. Replacing oil and gas with a clean substitute could make America the world’s leading renewable energy superpower.
As Politico reports, the incentives offered under CHIPS and the Inflation Reduction Act have been so effective that they’re frustrating European leaders. The two laws combined put $400 billion in place for renewable energy projects like the Nel Hydrogen plant. And that’s in addition to the subsidies that have been provided to taxpayers to use renewable energy and drive electric vehicles.
For decades, the United States was at the back of the pack when it came to eliminating greenhouse gasses and promoting renewable energy. Thanks to the power of fossil fuel lobbies, Democratic administrations were able to make little progress, and Republican administrations swiftly reversed any changes made.
However, under Biden the U.S. hasn’t just moved to place limits on fossil fuel use, the country has also made investments in renewable energy so significant that they are rapidly changing the global landscape.
“A year ago, the EU clearly had the yellow jersey,” said the CEO of Nel. “Now the U.S. has it.”
That Michigan plant is part of a seven-state cooperative to develop widespread use of hydrogen. That even includes some states like Kentucky and Indiana, which have been very reluctant to make any moves that would be seen as less than 100% supportive of coal, oil, and gas. Now those states are eager to dive into the possibility of jobs and development that the Inflation Reduction Act promotes, and an interstate compact is resulting in a shared effort to standardize and expand the necessary infrastructure.
One of the best things about many renewable energy projects is that they are local. The energy generated through wind and solar is often consumed right in the counties and states where that energy is captured. However, that can also be a bad thing since it can limit the buildup of renewable infrastructure. Using that renewable energy to create hydrogen creates a way that energy can be stored locally in places that are able to capture more renewable energy than they can use. Hydrogen also offers the possibility of turning sunlight or wind into a product that can be packaged and moved by pipeline or rail over long distances.
Hydrogen can even be exported, and could be a viable competitor to oil and gas in terms of a fungible, transportable, all-purpose fuel.
Hydrogen can be burned in cars, either directly in a combustion engine or in generating electricity through hydrogen fuel cells. Several manufacturers have created small numbers of cars using this technology, but their use is currently limited by the lack of a hydrogen fuel infrastructure. In the immediate future, it’s clear that cars are going to be driven by battery technology, not hydrogen—though in the longer term, that could change.
Hydrogen can also be burned in generators. Not only is it possible to modify many existing generators to use hydrogen, minimizing the cost of a changeover from natural gas, but the only output of burning hydrogen is steam. So it would be possible to move some generators closer to where power was needed, and even to use the waste heat from the generators. It’s easy to imagine a large building running on hydrogen that uses both the electricity and the heat generated at the site rather than dozens or hundreds of miles away at a power station.
The European Union had been trying to position itself as the global leader in hydrogen technology, but thanks to the initiative of the Biden administration, the U.S. is rapidly overtaking the world to become the center of hydrogen technology.
As one European CEO explained to Politico, “We have a very robust framework in the EU, but we fail to attract our own companies because it’s all too complex. We have ambitious targets, but we don’t have simple and efficient instruments to incentivize businesses.”
Instead those companies are moving to America, where the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act have exactly the necessary incentives and flexibility to attract these clean energy jobs for the future.
Michigan is hoping that it, and the Detroit area in particular, will be selected as one of four hubs for hydrogen development that are expected to be named in the next year. Other states are also in the running, and hydrogen is just one area of targeted growth. There are additional incentives around batteries and other forms of energy storage as well as a primary focus on increasing photovoltaic solar power, which is expected to be the biggest area of growth when it comes to how energy is generated over the next decade.
Just this week, Monday was the hottest day in history. Then Tuesday was the hottest day in history. Then Wednesday tied with Tuesday. Every single day it’s possible to find some new chart, like this one of Antarctic ice, which shows just what a desperate fix the world is in.
It’s easy to cry, “doom!” and for decades Americans have had little else to say. Our government was usually one of the anchors holding the world back, so fixated on the idea that only fossil fuels could possibly support the economy that the rest of the world could rightly point to the U.S. as one of the handful of nations that refused to sign on to help address the climate crisis.
That’s changed. Sure, the U.S. still only gets a bit over 21% of its electrical power from renewable sources, but for the first time the government isn’t just providing lip service to promoting wind and solar power. Biden is aggressively pursuing a plan that insists:
The United States can move to renewable energy quickly.
By becoming a hub for renewable energy development, the U.S. will provide better jobs and expand its industrial base.
The economic benefits of this clean energy revolution will far exceed the subsidy costs.
It may be hard to get used to the idea, but even as we’re seeing increasing signals of how devastating the climate crisis is becoming, the U.S. is making investments in an effort to lead the world and seriously moving toward achieving some of the ambitious goals that have been set. Now that we’ve stopped being an anchor, maybe we can be a sail that propels the world.
Of course, an incoming Republican administration would likely move to end many of these successful programs to subsidize their buddies in the fossil fuel industry. The best thing we can do for the planet is to make sure that possibility remains theoretical.