Early into the Fuel Cell Innovation Forum, organized by the BDH and Zukunft Erdgas, both spokesmen for the Fuel Cell Initiative, or IBZ for short, were visibly tense, seemingly worried that the government might drop its support for residential fuel cells. But after Thomas Bareiß, who works at the German economy ministry, told those gathered on Oct. 10, 2018, in Berlin the heaters had been short-listed for incentives in 2019, you could hear them breathe a sigh a relief.
Then, last November, the Bundestag confirmed that it would keep funding home fuel cells. Now, work can start on cutting through all the red tape that has been haunting applicants to this day. In fact, there was no reason to be worried, as the government had, on multiple occasions, assured the industry that the National Innovation Program Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology, also known as NIP 2, would run until 2026. But since program funds must be approved every year following an annual budget debate in parliament, there was some uncertainty as to whether lawmakers would release the money allocated to incentive program 433 beyond August 2019. By making funds available until the end of this year, they have prevented what would have been the first setback in the buildup of a nationwide market for residential fuel cells.
Incentive program 433, which is being managed by the German KfW bank and was launched in 2016, had been “popular among consumers,” said the two IBZ spokesmen, Andreas Lücke, the executive director of Germany’s national heating association BDH, and Timm Kehler, the chief executive of the Zukunft Erdgas advocacy group. By August 2018, the government had approved around 4,200 applications.
The IBZ sees a bright future for fuel cells, saying residential systems were the key to a new energy system, since they were “a mature technology that is, without exception, available to everyone across the country.” The Fuel Cell Innovation Forum was the first big event to see the new make-up of the Fuel Cell Initiative taking shape. Up until early 2018, it had mainly been a consortium of companies dedicated to research and demonstration. Now, after two large organizations representing the gas and heating industry have joined the group, its members are hoping for a fast-track way to growth. This development is especially important considering the few changes in the home heating market, where investment in renewable energy is typically limited to new construction, even though “the biggest opportunity to combat climate change is in existing building stock, where more than six in 10 heating systems are out of date and thus inefficient,” the IBZ stated.
A slow-changing market
The current challenges in home heating are that it is plagued with burdensome regulation, which is particularly unnerving to those trying to install combined heat and power systems, and, according to Kehler, that it “is one of the slowest-changing markets in manufacturing.” For example, while condensing boilers were introduced 30 years ago, their market share is still sitting at around 30 percent. Bareiß concurred and said that “transforming the energy market will be a massive undertaking.” But he also said that “we urgently need to ease the pressure on fuel cell companies, in the realms of policy and public opinion.” Sustainability targets could not be achieved if “we focus all our efforts on making every device run on electricity. We likewise need to advance the creation of an integrated energy system.”
read more: January issue 2019