Today, the two Mayors signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in their respective cities, marking their efforts toward the world's first bilateral agreement by municipalities to use hydrogen as their green energy strategy. The online event, which took place simultaneously in Japan and the United States, was attended by global environmental dignitaries including Alex Padilla, U.S. Senator for California, Eleni Kounalakis, Lieutenant Governor of California, and Yukari Hino, Director of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Strategy Office, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of Japan. The concept of a hydrogen-centered Smart Sister City relationship was first proposed at a luncheon with Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles, Akira Muto, and the Mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, in July of 2020.
Senator Padilla congratulated the two cities for making a unique collaboration to use hydrogen in addition to pairing together to share knowledge, contacts, best practices, and economic development strategies surrounding hydrogen uptake. "They are leading the fight to reduce carbon emissions with innovative technologies and international collaborations," he said, noting that California had long been a leader in solving the climate crisis and advancing climate justice. "As a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I am committed to supporting bold action to transition to sustainable energy sources."
Namie Town, in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, has been rebuilding after the Daiichi nuclear tragedy of March 11, 2011, completing construction of the largest solar-energy-powered hydrogen production unit in the world (the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field known as "FH2R") in 2020. "FH2R is a symbol of the recovery of Fukushima, with Namie as the center of innovation," said Masami Miyashita, Director of Japan's Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI).
Kazuhiro Yoshida, Mayor of Namie, said that hydrogen fit in with "recovery and excellence" as the central themes of the Tokyo Olympics. "We are thrilled that Namie hydrogen is being used to fuel the Olympic torch, flame, and official fuel cell vehicle," Yoshida said. "With the cooperation of all parties concerned, we strive for Namie to become a town that pioneers a hydrogen-based society using locally produced carbon-free hydrogen." Yoshida explained that the town's efforts included the introduction of fuel cell vehicles as their official vehicles and the implementation of a demonstration study to establish a hydrogen supply chain.
Lancaster, California, a city 70 miles north of Los Angeles, is also a hub of clean energy innovation. Since 2009, the City of Lancaster has attracted over $2 billion in solar investments, developed their own green energy municipal utility, and in 2019 became the first Net-Zero city in the United States. "We now host several hydrogen company investments, and we envision an even brighter future centered around hydrogen," said Lancaster Mayor Parris.
The Los Angeles County Supervisor, Kathryn Barger, weighed in calling the partnership an historic opportunity for the City of Lancaster and the County of Los Angeles to take part in providing a critical resource. "It is my hope that hydrogen made in Lancaster will help fuel the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, much like Namie-made hydrogen is being used during the upcoming Tokyo Olympics," Barger said.
Consul General Muto highlighted the high value of the effort in creating a future Hydrogen Society. "Japan and the United States are natural allies in many fields," Muto said. "Beginning with the collaboration between these two far-thinking cities, where both hydrogen production and end-use consumption will be fully explored, I expect this exciting relationship will help show the way towards building a hydrogen energy value-chain and a Hydrogen Society on both sides of the Pacific Ocean."
Namie and Lancaster have been refining their hydrogen roadmaps and learning as much as they can by sharing their experiences. City officials have monthly meetings online. "They are learning each other's histories, cultures, and how to integrate hydrogen into their daily lives. We will also promote the dialogue with Japanese companies," said Norihiko Saeki, Executive Director of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in Los Angeles.
Lex Heslin, Senior Project Developer of Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI), a multinational waste and energy company that is advising the City of Lancaster on its 10-year hydrogen master plan, helped Lancaster develop the bilateral program. "Concrete steps that can be replicated elsewhere were delineated to implement a hydrogen strategy and encourage investment in hydrogen or 'H2' projects and infrastructure," said Heslin. These include:
assisting with city-owned land,
using municipal procurement as a tool,
assisting with grant proposals,
bringing together federal agencies, academia, private companies, non-profits, and community groups, and establishing roles within the municipality to oversee H2 projects and achieve goals.
According to Eiji Ohira, head of fuel cell and hydrogen technology at Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the two cities will gain more from new partnerships if global trends are an indicator. "Hydrogen is the key to achieving carbon neutrality, especially when maximizing the potential of renewable energies. It is necessary to build a local energy model based on utilizing local resources, and it is effective to mutually utilize the knowledge and experience of the two cities," said Ohira.
CA Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis summed up the historic agreement by acknowledging that Japan and California, as pioneers in hydrogen, made ideal collaborators. "Together Japan and California are leading the way to a clean energy future. Our climate crisis is a global crisis and partnerships at all levels of government, including at the city level, are essential to tackling climate change," she said. "California is home to the largest number of hydrogen vehicles and hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. As we decarbonize our economies, hydrogen will be an important fuel powering our transportation and industrial needs."
Mayor Parris suggested that going forward the Smart Sister Cities program could become the framework for municipalities of all sizes to adopt a hydrogen roadmap. "Municipalities have tremendous power to influence decisions and improve the environment. We hope they will convert to this incredibly smart fuel that promises a new opportunity for cities everywhere," Parris said, adding that he expected more cities would join the program in the near future.