U.S. utilities that run on natural gas have been fervently touting hydrogen as a key way to remain relevant in a world rapidly rethinking fossil fuels. The reality is going to be more complicated.

Hydrogen is a lightweight gas often marketed as cleaner than fossil fuels, with even environmental critics agreeing it has a role to play in decarbonizing heavy industry. Now, U.S. utilities are jumping on the hydrogen bandwagon, announcing over the past two years more than two dozen projects involving its production and distribution. From Dominion Energy Inc.’s pilot plan to blend the fuel with natural gas supplies in North Carolina to Southern California Gas Co.’s proposed pipeline system to supply pure hydrogen to Los Angeles, outlining a future awash in hydrogen is on seemingly every energy company’s to-do list.

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