Hydrogen to Power Japans’ Olympic Village

  • Japan will use hydrogen technology at the 2020 Olympics and Para-Olympics to showcase its transition to a hydrogen-powered society.
  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has earmarked US 350 million in a special fund to subsidise hydrogen fuel cell introduction.
  • Buildings, buses and cars will be hydrogen powered in the Olympic village.

Hydrogen is a clean energy that emits only water when used, helping reduce environmental load as well as contributing to a diversified energy mix. It has a positive spillover effect on the economy and industries plus a positive response to emergencies. When hydrogen is derived from renewable energy sources it can make a massive step to towards a zero-carbon society.

Japan will use hydrogen technology at the 2020 Olympics and Para-Olympics to showcase its transition to a hydrogen-powered society. Their entire Olympic village will be powered by hydrogen. The Japanese hit home the fact that real estate will be worthless going forward unless it is powered by renewable energy. So they are using the custom-built Olympic village as a litmus test for larger urban development projects.

Hydrogen has been around as an energy source for a long time but there has been very little uptake large because of the high implementation costs. Synthesising the hydrogen itself is an energy-intensive process, after which it must be super-cooled or pressurized to be transported and used.

To get hydrogen fuel to consumers, the private and public sector needs to invest in infrastructure. Perhaps the biggest challenge though is to change the mindset. How to convince people that hydrogen technology can be used in everyday day life without compromising on lifestyle. Showcasing the benefits at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is a masterstroke to get the message across.

To overcome the challenges of high implementation costs, Yoichi Masuzoe, governor of the Tokyo Metropol, has earmarked US 350 million in a special fund to subsidise hydrogen fuel cell introduction.

Masuzoe is building the nearly 6,000-unit Olympic village to function exclusively on fuel cell power and he is plugging the benefits this will have for Tokyo’s air quality, resilience to natural disasters, and most importantly, the potential to seriously reduce carbon emissions.

Part of the special funding also goes to subsidising buses and cars. All buses servicing the Olympic village will run on hydrogen. Two fuel-cell buses have already been introduced on regular metropolitan routes in Tokyo since March 2017.

Hydrogen powered cars carry a higher price tag compared to electric, hybrid and fossil fuel powered cars. For example Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell car, the Mirai, costs close to US 70,000. To deal with that, the Japanese government offers a roughly US20,000 subsidy and Tokyo adds an additional US10,000, bringing it into competition with other commercially viable clean cars.

Like other technologies, cars and buses running on hydrogen need to be filled up from time to time. Hydrogen stations cost five times as much to build as a regular petrol station. Tokyo will offset that with an 80 per cent subsidy on new hydrogen stations, which brings them to cost parity with petrol stations.

Will the sun rise on a hydrogen-powered Tokyo in the future? Who knows, one thing is for sure, Tokyo’s Olympic Village investment could play a key role in bringing down the costs of hydrogen fuel and open up clean power to many more people worldwide.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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