As energy bills soar, Japanese test fuel of future
As world oil prices skyrocket, thousands of households in energy-poor Japan are taking part in an ambitious experiment to use fuel cells to light and heat their homes.
Since the prime minister's official residence became the first house in the world to be equipped with a domestic fuel cell in 2005, about 3,000 households have signed up to have the grey boxes installed outside their homes.
The project aims to thrust Japan to the forefront of a "hydrogen society" that has kicked its addiction to fossil fuels and produces affordable energy while spewing out far less of the greenhouse gas that is blamed for global warming.
The government-sponsored fuel cell scheme involves a clutch of Japanese energy and technology heavyweights including Nippon Oil, Tokyo Gas, Sanyo Electric, Toshiba, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyota Motor.
The government estimates there could be demand for 550,000 domestic fuel cells a year in Japan within a few years. There are 48 million households in Japan, of which 25 million live in individual houses.
For now, however, the system is expensive at about two million yen, or some 19,000 dollars, excluding installation. Research is underway to make the machines as economical as possible thanks to less expensive sources of hydrogen.
Thanks to reductions in the cost of components, the companies involved in the project hope to reduce the price of the equipment to one million yen as soon as possible to boost demand, and to cut it further to 500,000 yen in 2015.