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Fancy Having Your Own Power Plant? “Fuel Cell Micro-Cogeneration is Market-Ready”

Alternative Energy

SolidPower’s BlueGen fuel cell unit.

More than 1,000 fuel cell micro-cogeneration units have been installed in homes and business in ten countries over the last several years by the ene.field project. Its successor, the PACE project, aims at bringing costs further down, although manufacturers and users say the technology is market-ready.

“I thought it would be nice to have my own power plant,” says Jochen Steneberg, a participant in the ene.field project field trial. A demonstration project for fuel cell micro-cogeneration, the ene.field project was funded to the tune of €52.5 million, with matching contributions from industry and the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a public private partnership supporting research, technological development and demonstration activities in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe.

Steneberg is one of 3500 households and businesses across Europe that are currently using fuel cell micro-cogeneration for their heating, hot water and electricity supply. The product is transforming Europeans like Steneberg into active energy ‘prosumers’ (producers-consumers) who can sell excess electricity back to the grid, creating a decentralized energy system with a reduced carbon footprint – and lower energy bills.

The fuel cell works by using a single fuel (natural gas, hydrogen, LPG) to generate electricity and heat. In systems fueled by natural gas, the natural gas is reformed into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which reacts with oxygen in the fuel cell to produce electricity and heat. Currently fueled by gas from the grid, it is hoped that the “fuel flexible” technology will be progressively fueled by renewable energy sources, such as hydrogen and renewable gas, converting a home fuel cell into a renewable energy technology.

Products include a range of fuel cell technologies and system sizes, provided by ten different manufacturers (Ballard, Bosch, Ceres Power, Elcore, Hexis, RBZ, SenerTec, SOLIDpower, Vaillant, Viessmann).

An additional €90 million shared between European industry and the EU will go into the successor project PACE, aiming at bringing unit costs down sufficiently to mainstream the technology, and establishing Europe as a global leader in fuel cell micro-cogeneration. By 2021, PACE aims at installing at least 2,500 units in Europe manufactured by the project partners BDR Thermea, Bosch, SOLIDPower and Viessman. It is estimated that manufacturing volumes upwards of 500 units / year will lower the cost of units by around 30-40%, and the PACE project is aiming at manufacturing in the order of 10,000 units per year post 2020.

Japan’s Ene-farm program, in which government and manufacturers joined forces to increase volumes and subsequently lower costs, saw the installation of 200,000 units by the end of 2016, and the Japanese government is aiming at 5.3 million units by 2030. In 2009 the cost per unit was around €24,000, while in 2015 it had decreased to approximately €10,000.

European markets

To date the most advanced European market is in Germany, with more than 1500 units installed. Following an earlier German federal project, Callux, the German government put in place the grant support scheme, KfW433, to encourage early market uptake. Grants come in the range of €5,700-€28,000, with €10,000 offered for a 1 kilowatt-electric (kWe) system. Already 1,100 applications have been submitted since the kick-off of the programme in August 2016.

Support for fuel cell micro-cogeneration in other countries, including Belgium, France, and the UK, is through feed-in premiums, feed-in tariffs, and white certificates/green certificates. Depending on the level of support from national schemes, estimates from UK low-carbon consultancy Element Energy indicate that the European market for fuel cell micro-cogeneration could grow to around 25 GW of installed electrical capacity by 2030 (i.e. 25 million units).

As noted in the European Commission’s Heating and Cooling Strategy, space heating in buildings can account for more than 80% of total heat demand in colder climates. Almost half of the EU’s buildings have individual boilers installed before 1992, with efficiencies of 60% or less. Based on an assessment from the European Heating Industry Association (EHI) less than 15% of the boiler stock are efficient condensing boilers, and currently just 1% of buildings are heated by heat pumps and micro-cogeneration technologies.

As the fuel cell micro-cogeneration units are powered by gas from the grid and produce electricity, the combination of low gas prices and high electricity prices (‘spark spread’) also provides favorable market conditions for fuel cell micro-cogeneration. For the average household in Germany or the Netherlands, this means that energy bill savings in the range of €600 – €1000 are achievable using the product. Currently, fuel cell micro-cogeneration unit costs range between €14,000 and €25,000 per kWe, however ramping up manufacturing through the PACE project aims at lowering upfront capital costs by 30-40%.

A 2015 study commissioned by the FCH JU compared total cost of ownership of fuel cell micro-cogeneration and other technologies, finding that “with sufficient reduction of capital cost, it can offer the most attractive economic value proposition, in terms of total cost of ownership, as measured by total annual energy costs”. Increasing manufacturing volumes is the key to cost reduction; with cost reductions of 30% possible with manufacturing 500 units per year, and 60% at 100,000 units per year.

Source: Advancing Europe’s energy systems: Stationary fuel cells in distributed generation.

Along with the high upfront cost, finding the routes to market for fuel cell micro-cogeneration remains challenging. Heat installers, 600 of whom were trained to install the units as part of the ene.field project, proved effective. Although utilities, many of whom are facing financial challenges in Europe’s energy transition, were initially hesitant, with the success of the roll-out, new commercial partnerships are underway.

“Now that utilities can see that fuel cell micro-cogeneration works – customers are happy, and the product is reliable – we have a number of business partnerships with utilities in development,” says Olivier Bucheli, Chief Business Development Officer of the SOLIDpower Group.  One utility-led business model is a leasing arrangement, whereby the utility owns the installed unit, and the householder benefits from low electricity prices and free hot water. “From volumes of 500 units upwards, this business model is interesting for utilities,” says Bucheli.

System benefits

By generating heat and electricity near the point of consumption, fuel cell micro-cogeneration reduces the stress on grid electricity at times of peak demand, by contributing to the production of electricity, i.e to power electric heat pumps and charge electric vehicles, and by supporting intermittent renewables. And higher market penetration of fuel cell micro-cogeneration could bring multiple benefits for Europe’s future decentralized energy system, according to a recent report from Imperial College London. The study analyzed the impact of fuel cell micro-cogeneration on the capacity and operation of the electricity grid, along with the impact on CO2 emissions and gas consumption.

The electricity system benefits are significant. Adding fuel cell micro-cogeneration to the European energy mix could generate a gross reduction in infrastructure and operating costs of more than €6,000 for every kilowatt of installed capacity up to 2050. System benefits at distribution level can amount to €1,600 – €2,600 per installed kWe, mainly by deferring the investment cost at the low voltage level.

Regarding CO2 emissions, fuel cell micro-cogeneration can achieve reductions in the range of 370 – 1,100 kg CO2 per year for each kWe of installed capacity, although the extent of emissions reduction is system-specific, depending on the share of fossil fuels in the generation mix. Average carbon intensity of electricity generation across Member States was around 2,207 kg CO2 per year for each kWe.

Policy push

Along with national support schemes and large-scale projects such as ene.field and PACE, policy support will be a decisive factor in the take-up of fuel cell micro-cogeneration. Many attributes of the product are emphasized in Europe’s climate and energy goals – energy efficiency, renewable energy, decarbonisation, consumer empowerment, job creation and innovation – but existing policies tend to address heat and power separately, although some policy progress is evident in the EU’s Heating and Cooling Strategy, first launched in 2015.

To take one example, Article 7 in the Energy Efficiency Directive, currently under discussion as part of the European Commission’s Clean Energy for all Europeans policy package, requires energy companies to achieve yearly energy savings of 1.5% of annual sales to final consumers. However, the focus is on energy reduction as the end-user level (final energy) rather than on primary energy. As well as advocating for primary energy use to be taken into account, industry association COGEN Europe says that renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency, should be included in the energy savings targets.

In addition, although European policy is nominally supportive of ‘prosumers’, electricity self-production and self-consumption are often penalised through disproportionately high grid connection and grid tariffs compared to real grid use. Financial, as well as administrative barriers to grid connection or support schemes at the national level persist and represent a major barrier to the large-scale roll-out of fuel cell micro-cogeneration.

Despite these challenges, the industry mood is upbeat. “Following the successful completion of ene.field, major European manufacturers, supported by the FCH JU at the EU level and key European national governments, are now committed to bringing the technology closer to mass market by increasing scale and achieving further product cost reductions. PACE will enable manufacturers to establish fuel cell micro-cogeneration as a standard technology”, said Hans Korteweg, Managing Director of COGEN Europe, the Coordinator of the PACE and ene.field projects.

Energy Post

35 Comments on "Fancy Having Your Own Power Plant? “Fuel Cell Micro-Cogeneration is Market-Ready”"

  1. Jef on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 9:43 am 

    The US would have to stop inciting terrorism globally disband the military and advocate for world peace if hydrogen is to become readily available to every household.

    Could happen……..BUUuuuuuuaaaaaahahhahahahh!

  2. PeterEV on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 11:40 am 

    World natural gas production is forecast to peak some time toward the end of this century. Which begs to question on where will the hydrogen will come from to fuel these units. Production, leakage, and storage has always been problems with hydrogen based systems.

    Reformatting natural gas to hydrogen takes a bit of energy in of itself. Are they employing a newer technology?

    One of the problems with fuel cell vehicles is that reformatted natural gas produced minutes amounts of CO (as opposed to CO2) and when combined with water, produced an acid that slowly eroded the PEM membrane. Has this been solved with these units?

  3. Outcast_Searcher on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 11:49 am 

    Given the cost and complexity and energy required to make the hydrogen available, I still don’t see why this is better than just using LI-ION (or better, as battery chemistry advances) batteries and solar or wind.

    I suppose it’s nice as an alternative where the other won’t work, but unless it somehow becomes a lot cheaper INCLUDING the hydrogen build-out/supply issue, it looks no more practical to me than the FCEV car vs a BEV.

  4. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 12:20 pm 

    It is far more expensive to store renewable electricity in a battery than storing renewable created hydrocarbons/hydrogen in a standard storage tank.

  5. rockman on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 1:55 pm 

    “It is far more expensive to store renewable electricity in a battery than storing renewable created hydrocarbons/hydrogen in a standard storage tank.” But so far the systems installed (partly paid for with tax payer monies) are not storing renewable created energy. It is storing energy created by burning a fossil fuel.

    So let’s make that jump: a wind turbine produces electricity that is used to generate hydrogen that is stored as a fuel cell. That does handle the storage problem. But that tech already exists on a commercial scale which should be more efficient then small individual systems, right? So why not just use commercial scale alt energy sources of electricity to make hydrogen fuel cells on a commercial scale? Those can then be delivered in bulk to communities where that stored energy can be consumed. Not being an engineer I’ll let someone else comment on the cost and efficiency factors.

  6. Outcast_Searcher on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:14 pm 

    Cloggie: That may be, but free hydrogen doesn’t grow on trees. Where doesn it come from? Burning NG to get it isn’t green.

    Fuel cells aren’t exactly cheap either. They may be, some day. Toyota is apparently betting on FCV technology and I respect Toyota, but I’m far from convinced that fuel cell technology, all things considered will win out.

    As a consumer, I welcome choices, and if people are willing to develop it on someone ELSE’S dime, in hopes of making a big profit when they can earn it — as a capitalist, I say more power to them.

  7. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:18 pm 

    “Cloggie: That may be, but free hydrogen doesn’t grow on trees. Where doesn it come from? Burning NG to get it isn’t green.”

    Efficiency conversion 84%:

    They can now build electrolysis installations up to 100MW.

  8. GregT on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:30 pm 

    “It is far more expensive to store renewable electricity in a battery”

    There is no such thing as renewable electricity. I think what you meant to say was; Electricity generated from ‘renewable’ sources, using industrial gadgets manufactured with fossil fuels.

  9. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:36 pm 

    That’s because the penetration of renewables is still in its infancy. When they are approaching 100%, “industrial gadgets” will be manufactured with renewable energy.


    Its not rocket science, unless of course you are not interested in a renewable energy base because that would keep too many undesirable “cancer monkeys” alive.

  10. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:41 pm 

    Fuel cells will find a niche. It is a great technology that needs the proper application. I doubt it will scale in size and affordability as a game changer but from what I see there are no game changers just solutions with varying degrees of handicaps. We need multiple solutions finding the many sweet spots that are out there.

  11. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 2:43 pm 

    “Efficiency conversion 84%”

    More deepresource WordPress speculation IOW a Dutchy dream.

  12. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 3:05 pm 

    “More deepresource WordPress speculation IOW a Dutchy dream.”

    “Wordpress speculation?”



  13. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 3:07 pm 

    Make that 82%

  14. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 3:12 pm 

    “Fuel cells will find a niche. It is a great technology that needs the proper application. I doubt it will scale in size and affordability as a game changer but from what I see there are no game changers just solutions with varying degrees of handicaps. We need multiple solutions finding the many sweet spots that are out there.”

    Empty, meaningless word juggling.

  15. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 3:14 pm 

    Says a juggler to another. At least I am honest.

  16. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 3:20 pm 

    Tulip, until your hydrogen electrolysis is at a commercial stage on its own and not just another Fussion Fiasco then it is just dreamy tip toeing through the tulips. You are a goof ball, dutchy.

  17. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 4:06 pm 

    “it is just dreamy tip toeing through the tulips.”

    The Dutch are not known to be dreamers. With 250 times less land and 20 times less people we generate a comparable agricultural export as you do. It seems that you are the dreamers. Do you ever get out of bed?

  18. GregT on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 4:49 pm 

    “Its not rocket science, unless of course you are not interested in a renewable energy base because that would keep too many undesirable “cancer monkeys” alive.”

    100% hydro electric here already. As ‘renewable’ as it gets, with no intermittency (except for when the grid goes down during storm cycles).

    Still 100% completely reliant on inputs from fossil fuels.

  19. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 4:59 pm 

    tulip, check out your total grains and oil seed and get back to me. You are just a little flower among giant trees.
    total grains 472 mmt
    oil seeds 126.9 mmt

  20. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 5:13 pm 

    “Still 100% completely reliant on inputs from fossil fuels.”

    You got it exactly right: “still”

  21. Cloggie on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 5:24 pm 

    “You are just a little flower among giant trees.”

    Look i know you are a grain giant and I deeply admire you for that. But still, 10 million km2 and 330 million people and you have still trouble in staying ahead of far smaller European countries, most of all Holland, 44,000 km2 and 17 million people. I think it is an embarressement, honestly.

  22. Davy on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 5:27 pm 

    no comparison tulip, except in your mind where your greatness has no limits.

  23. Makati1 on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 5:40 pm 

    There is only one renewable energy that does not need FF at some point in their creation, installation, use and replacement. One. The consumption of plants grown by sunlight turned into muscle power. ALL others require FF at some point and most of them at every point.

    This ‘renewables’ debate is just masturbating with words, like debating peak oil. Both sides feel good when they are doing it, so it becomes a habit. A waste of time that is getting ever shorter as we get closer to the cliff.

    Perhaps it is just a diversion from the real problem, climate change and human extinction? Humans are good at self-delusion. WE have some perfect examples here. A side effect of our “intelligence”? No, a definite weakness.

    Ah well, pass the beer and pretzels. At least it is a good show but not a Disney ending.

  24. GregT on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 7:05 pm 

    “You got it exactly right: “still””

    It took you a while Cloggie, but I had full confidence that you would eventually come to your senses.

  25. GregT on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 7:19 pm 

    “There is only one renewable energy that does not need FF at some point in their creation, installation, use and replacement. One. The consumption of plants grown by sunlight turned into muscle power.”

    Even the Sun itself, is not a truly ‘renewable’ energy source Makati. It is eventually going to burn itself out.

  26. Makati1 on Sun, 17th Dec 2017 7:44 pm 

    Yes, but it will take billions of years. I don’t think we have to be concerned. ^_^

  27. Makati1 on Mon, 18th Dec 2017 6:03 am 

    You might want to visit some past techie dreams. Among others:

    “Atomic cars were a foregone conclusion: shortly after World War II Popular Mechanics magazine predicted cars that “could be driven 5,000,000 miles without refueling.”…

    Another hope that has been lost to history was “atomic farming,” in which radioactive cobalt irradiating plants in the field might lead to larger crop yields….

    And of course, there was the atomic airplane — an airborne nuclear reactor with a cruising speed of 10,000 miles an hour…”

    Now we have fusion power, hydrogen energy and renewables. LOL

  28. dave thompson on Mon, 18th Dec 2017 9:03 am 

    “Hydrogen is difficult to store because has very low volumetric energy density. It is the simplest and lightest element–it’s lighter than helium. Hydrogen is 3.2 times less energy dense than natural gas and 2700 times less energy dense than gasoline. Hydrogen contains 3.4 times more energy than gasoline on a weight basis.”

  29. Antius on Mon, 18th Dec 2017 12:45 pm 

    Why do the words disappear off the page on this post?

  30. fmr-paultard on Mon, 18th Dec 2017 1:07 pm 

    this is just a scheme to sell machines. the whole thing is too complex to function reliably. no sane power company is going to support net metering because that amounts to a free ride on the electric grid super highway. this is just something peculiar for tech enthusiasts to try out.

    i have enough keeping my simple machines working as it is. i’d rather move to the phils where everything is plentiful and everything just works.

  31. dave thompson on Mon, 18th Dec 2017 2:01 pm 

    Antius I think it is because I posted the above?

  32. deadlykillerbeaz on Tue, 19th Dec 2017 5:16 pm 

    If you buy five tons of coal to heat your humble home for four or five months during the winter time, it is a fuel cell and is readily usable. Don’t need no technologically advanced ‘fuel cell’. Sounds like you are imprisoned.

    Five ton of coal will weigh 10,000 pounds.

    25 pounds per day for 200 days is 5000 pounds. You’ll have 400 days of heating for a mere 300 dollars at sixty dollars per ton for the coal. There will be a cost savings.

    I bought one ton of coal for one winter and it was enough, but I was using wood too. A coal/wood burning stove does a good job heating a home. It got hot, 975 degrees Fahrenheit with maple wood.

    Coal didn’t burn that hot, about 675 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Old technology, forced to power down, but it still works. Not a lot to worry about, the coal and wood will burn without electricity and oil.

    The thermometer on the chimney gave the reading.

    A tree is a fuel cell.

    If you want to go whole hog, have the super technologically advanced fuel cell, an act of complete selfishness. Much too yuppified, a waste, again.

    It won’t do any good and is probably a hindrance.

    There is no escape from overshoot.

  33. Apneaman on Tue, 19th Dec 2017 7:51 pm 

    Trump Drops Climate Threats from National Security Strategy

    The president claimed yesterday that the true danger to U.S. security is not climate change, but regulations

    China Just Moved Closer to Becoming the World’s Climate Leader

    Rising Seas Are Flooding Virginia’s Naval Base, and There’s No Plan to Fix It

    The giant naval base at Norfolk is under threat by rising seas and sinking land, but little is being done to hold back the tides.

    “Once or twice a month, seawater subsumes steam lines that run along the bottom of the piers where the fleet’s ships are moored. It bubbles up through storm drains and closes roads. “It can actually shut down operations, or make it very difficult for people to get around,” Bouchard said.

    Climate change poses an immediate threat to Norfolk. The seas are rising at twice the global average here, due to ocean currents and geology. Yet while the region is home to the densest collection of military facilities in the nation, the Pentagon has barely begun the hard work of adaptation.”

    “These guys are in a whole heap ton of trouble,” said retired Rear Adm. David Titley. Before he joined Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, Titley served as the Navy’s oceanographer and navigator and led its Climate Change Task Force. “I think Norfolk is, in the long term, fighting for its existence, its very existence,” Titley said. “And this is the part of climate change that I don’t think most Americans have really come to grips with—that virtually every coastal city is in a fight for its existence. They just don’t know it yet.”

  34. DerHundistlos on Tue, 19th Dec 2017 9:25 pm 

    @ Antius

    To solve this problem, widen the window.

  35. Sissyfuss on Wed, 20th Dec 2017 7:55 am 

    Trump responded to the Rear Admiral by saying” No need to get your titleys in a wringer.” Trump also mentioned that every time he addressed Rear Admiral Titley it somehow appealed massively to his prurient interests.And his prurient interests are said to be massive.

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