Are fuel cells the answer to rising energy costs?

A new report has surfaced this week which claims that by 2030, five million fuel cell 'smart power' units could be installed across the UK, triggering a new 'revolution' in energy distribution. The reported, funded by the fuel cell industry and carried out by a sustainable energy consultancy called Ecuity, said that the scheme could easily mitigate the UK's currently dependency on important gas and fluctuating prices. 


Many may be put off by the fact that this report was conducted by no less than six fuel cell companies, but the findings are nonetheless compelling. Looking at fuel cells which work by unlocking the hydrogen from sources such as hydrogen itself, biomethane and natural gas, Ecuity estimated that 22 million (or 90%) homes in the UK would be eligible furla cell 'smart power' units. Not to mention commercial properties and small businesses who could also contribute and benefit. The report cited that the main reasons for fuel cell adoption in the UK was the need to "keep the lights on" in light of the recent energy capacity controversy - but it should also help to lessen our dependency on fluctuating gas prices and imports. 


But how feasibile is this? How fast could it happen? Ecuity have calculated that, realistically, 5.3 million cells could be installed in the next 16 years and that this could lower energy bills by at least 21%. This is great news for those who have already invested in energy efficient electrical appliances such as electric central heating. It's thought that the extra 5.3 million fuel cells could equate to around 5 GW of new generation capacity. 


Another angle to approach this from might be to question its political feasibility. There's an enormous debate going on at the moment regarding the dominance of the big six energy giants over a market that is in urgent need of an overhaul. Ed Miliband and Labour have even gone as far as to promise an energy price freeze should they be voted into power in 2015 - a fine example of just how much energy bills and the energy industry in general penetrate public consciousness at the moment. Ecuity hit on the same nerve in its report, saying,


"Transferring power generation from energy suppliers into the hands of millions of customers would unlock a set of material benefits for the UK’s economy." 


lights on


The report also suggests “key elements” of a policy framework that could facilitate the progress toward distributed generation based on fuel cells. Ecuity have neatly laid out two suggestions leading up to the election next year - one for short term prospecting and the period leading up the election, and one for a more medium term outlook, offering suggestions for the years ahead. 


As for the short term, Ecuity suggests a grant scheme which should be introduced to support a fixed number of installations, while intelligence is gathered on the wider market potential of fuel cells within the home. In the medium term, Ecuity suggests that the Government should aim to have 5 million of these fuel cells installed by 2030 - and have this set as a national target. Other countries such has Japan have shown great enthusiam for Feed in Tariff schemes and smart meters, and Ecuity suggest that this is something the UK should also be looking into. 


Could this be a realistic way of delivering affordable, clean and green energy to homes throughout the UK? It certainly makes sense for those who have already taken advantage of money saving electrical technology in their households. 




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