Paul Mitchell is the president and CEO of Energy Systems Network. (Provided Photo)

Indiana’s state motto is “The Crossroads of America.” This is a fitting description of our current situation when it comes to energy transition. We have long been a beneficiary of our state’s robust, reliable, and low-cost energy resources. Indiana, as far back as the early 1880s, was an energy innovator starting with the production of natural gas that led to boom towns like Gas City. The first long distance natural gas pipeline in the U.S. was built to connect Indiana gas to the Chicago market.  This was the reason U.S. Steel decided to locate its operations in northwest Indiana.

Throughout the 1900s, it was our abundance of coal that provided low-cost electricity. This attracted and sustained a diversity of energy intensive industries from steel and automobiles to chemicals and pharmaceuticals. During this period, Indiana grew into the top manufacturing state in the nation both in GDP and jobs.

In the 2000s, spurred by a mix of Federal regulations and technology innovations, Indiana began its transition toward lower carbon energy options. In 2006, Governor Daniels released the Hoosier Homegrown Energy Plan the state’s first comprehensive energy strategy. It called for an all of the above approach to energy favoring locally sources resources including renewables, biofuels, clean coal, and even battery storage. This led to billions in new energy investments including: 1,000 megawatts of wind generation in northern Indiana (the largest in the nation at that time), 15 biofuel production facilities scattered across the state, and the most advanced coal gasification plant in the nation. These pioneering projects prepared Indiana for where we find ourselves today.

In the mid-2000s, the emergence of horizontal drilling, or “fracking,” led to a renaissance in American gas production that dramatically lowered natural gas prices.  This generated billions in economic growth for states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, and others. Unfortunately, Indiana’s shale gas reserves proved harder to reach and remain largely undeveloped to this day. Lower natural gas prices coupled with increased Federal regulations on coal eroded Indiana’s low-cost energy competitive advantage. This resulted in a period of rising electricity prices with industrial rates more than doubling since 2005. Indiana went from being the 3rd lowest cost energy state to middle of the pack today.

This short history lesson is meant as a reminder that Indiana has a long history of energy innovation. When faced with rising prices due to resource scarcity, geopolitics, and regulations, Hoosiers have innovated new methods or sought new sources for producing reliable low-cost energy. Today, as industry and governments seek lower carbon energy options, there is a fuel that is quickly gaining traction in markets around the world: Hydrogen.

Hydrogen has the potential to generate low and even zero carbon energy while maintaining high reliability and energy density similar to natural gas. Also, hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways at varying levels of carbon neutrality. It can be used as a supplement for natural gas in factories or power plants producing electricity.  And, hydrogen can fuel all modes of transportation (planes, trains, automobiles, boats, drones, etc.).

A number of Indiana companies including Cummins, BP, Rolls Royce, Toyota, and many others, are already investing in hydrogen technology.  Key government and non-profit stakeholders led the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Purdue University, and Energy Systems Network are seeking ways to accelerate and connect these investments across Indiana.  The goal is to establish a hydrogen economy in Indiana that will serve as a national hub generating billions in capital investment and thousands of jobs. There is no doubt that hydrogen will play a major role in the future of Indiana’s energy.  So, the time to plan and invest is now. As we have done in the past, Hoosiers should once more be pioneers in energy innovation.

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