Hydrogen has the potential to become a significant source of power and heat for Europe’s homes and industries. Stationary fuel cells are emerging as a viable alternative to combustion engines for the production of electrical power and the co-generation of heat as part of micro combined heat and power systems. According to a study conducted on behalf of COGEN Europe, micro-CHP has a number of key benefits that will ensure it plays an increasing role in the EU energy mix: it empowers energy consumers, it offers the potential to balance renewables and it decarbonises heat and electricity production, in addition to contributing to energy security and adding value to the EU economy. Furthermore, fuel cell micro-CHP has a low ‘heat-to-power ratio’, which means that it is well suited to the evolving trend in buildings towards higher electricity use and low space heating demand. These benefits are also highlighted in a recent study by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, outlining a pathway for the commercialisation of stationary fuel cells in distributed generation across Europe.
Given these benefits, there has been sustained commitment at EU level to support field trials for emerging high efficiency technologies like fuel cell micro-CHP. One of the objectives of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking’s (FCH JU) energy pillar is to accelerate the commercialisation of FCH technologies that use fuel cells in stationary applications. The aim is to advance fuel cell stacks, balance of plant (BoP) and complete systems to the point where they are able to compete effectively with current power and heat-generation technologies.
With respect to the stationary power and CHP applications of fuel cells, the FCH JU’s energy demonstration activities have focused on field demonstrations of micro-CHP and larger-scale power and CHP units. The aim here has been to establish a demonstration programme within Europe, alongside programmes supported by the Member States. Efforts have also focused on proof-of-concept of fuel cell systems and BoP components, and diagnostics and monitoring subsystems, with a view to supporting technologies through a programme of activities for proof-of-concept and validation projects. Another focus has been the demonstration of small-scale fuel cell systems to supply power for a range of back-up solutions and in remote locations.
The largest field trial currently underway in Europe is the FCH JU-co-financed ene.field project, which brings together nine mature European micro fuel cell-CHP manufacturers to deliver trials across all of the available fuel cell CHP technologies. As part of the project, fuel cell micro-CHP trials will be installed and actively monitored in dwellings across a range of European domestic heating markets, dwelling types and climatic zones, as a result of which an invaluable dataset on domestic energy consumption and micro-CHP applicability across Europe will be complied.
Ene.field will deploy and monitor approximately 1,000 new installations of residential fuel cell CHP across 12 key Member States. By learning the practical implications of installing, operating and supporting a fleet of fuel cells with real world customers, ene.field will demonstrate the environmental and economic imperative of micro FC-CHP, and lay the foundations for market exploitation.
One of the main objectives of the project is to remove barriers to the roll-out of technically mature fuel-cell micro-CHP systems through their large-scale deployment. It is hoped that this will trigger important first steps in the establishment of genuine product-support networks, well-developed supply chains and the growth of new skills to support commercial micro-CHP roll-out. The deployment of large numbers of micro-CHP devices will also help drive down costs, increase consumer awareness and establish new routes to market, in preparation for commercial roll-out.1
The field trials started in September 2013 with deployments to date in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. A report has been drawn up on the state-of-the-art with regard to field support arrangements, training and certification, in addition to an EU supply chain report. A working group for utilities has been set up, and another for regulations, codes and standards (RCS). Data from the first trials report is currently being analysed and an environmental life-cycle and costs assessment is to be developed this year, with establishment of a commercialisation framework planned for 2016.
The ene.field European Supply Chain Analysis Report published last year analysed the European supply chain for fuel cell micro-CHP and identified three main barriers. According to the report, the most seriously limiting factor for the successful development of the supply chain is production volume, which is the key driver towards reducing system costs. The second challenge identified is the need to reduce system complexity, and to reduce the cost of individual components and develop collaborative strategies between key players, which is of paramount importance if the price of the final end product is to be reduced. Finally, there is a need to plan large scale public deployment projects in order to support wide distribution of the systems.
The ene.field project will contribute to the strategic objectives of the FCH Joint Technology Initiative to boost the share of FCH technologies in a sustainable, low-carbon energy and transport system and ensure a world-leading competitive FCH industry in Europe by demonstrating the market potential and environmental benefits of micro FC-CHP, elaborating market-focused product specifications and harmonised codes and standards, and helping to create a more mature supply chain capable of deploying micro FC-CHP in 12 Member States. The project will also generate an evidence base on cost and environmental performance that can be used to accelerate policy support from governments and market adoption of the technologies.
1FCH Programme Review 2014