German Study Shows Expected Benefits from Fuel Cells for Home Heating and Power

29 Oct 2012


  • Ecological and economic analysis of residential fuel cell systems
  • Study confirms benefits of innovative cogeneration technology

An ecological and economic analysis of fuel cell micro-CHP has been carried out by the German Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (IFEU) on behalf of the Initiative Brennstoffzelle (IBZ) and the fuel cell working group of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). The study was done in cooperation with the Research Institute for Energy Economics (FfE) and the German Institute for Economic Research (GWS).

Fuel cells extend the technology portfolio of combined generation of heat and power (CHP) to smaller scales, commonly referred to as micro-CHP. Fuel cell micro-CHP systems can be a straightforward replacement for a large proportion of the ~3.4 million household boilers over 24 years old in Germany. They can also be used as add-on modules in around 17 million single- and two-family houses as a complement to modern gas heating.

In both cases, fuel cell systems have environmental and energy advantages over competing technologies and can make a significant contribution to building energy efficiency. Produced domestically, the systems would position Germany to export to and benefit from a growing European market in energy efficiency technology.

The study focused on fuel cell micro-CHP systems of smaller than 10 kWe (electricity output). Two scenarios were modelled and compared to a reference case without any fuel cell adoption. These were a ‘baseline scenario’ of a few thousand and a ‘dynamic scenario’ of some tens of thousands of fuel cell systems deployed by 2020. The probability that such scenarios can occur, given a suitable framework, is given justification by the success of the Japanese Ene-Farm scheme.

40% Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions is Achievable

The high electrical and overall efficiency of fuel cells is the major factor here. Fuel cell micro-CHP systems also have a higher power-to-heat ratio than conventional technology and are scalable, making them suitable for future building concepts such as low-energy and passive houses. The study estimates that, based on the expected electricity generation mix in 2020, a fuel cell micro-CHP system retrofitted to a typical family home will save between 21% and 40% of GHG emissions compared to a condensing boiler. Extrapolated to the whole of Germany and in the context of the installed base, the dynamic scenario predicts annual savings of 1.5 million tons of GHG, or 22 million tons over the fifteen-year life of the appliances.

Fuel Cells Achieve Competitiveness

In comparison to a scenario based on a combination of gas condensing boilers and solar power, the use of retrofitted fuel cell micro-CHP in the dynamic scenario leads to the same or lower energy costs. Compared to heat-only systems, fuel cell technology offers the opportunity for additional income, as cogenerated electricity can be sold to the grid. At high consumption and with an optimised system, an annual income of €70 to €80 is possible.

Fuel Cells Add Value and Create Jobs

The study also shows that even at the moderate baseline scenario, around €0.4 billion and 3,000 jobs could be added to the economy compared to the reference case without fuel cell deployment. In the dynamic scenario, the economic value is as high as ~€2.5 billion and 18,000 employees. GWS states that the deployment of stationary fuel cells can be expected to lead to positive macroeconomic effects in 2020, and compares very favourably with previously studied energy and climate policies.

Source: taken from the IBZ/VDMA press release (in German)

Photo of Heidelberg: IBZ/VDMA


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