Fuel Cells at Home: Looking for Options

What do you do when your heating system stops working? Of course, you call the company that installed it. And what if they tell you that repairing your 22-year-old gas boiler isn’t worth it anymore? Which system is affordable yet state of the art? Do you want a condensing boiler or rather a home fuel cell? Where can you get the information you need? Who can you talk to? H2-international’s Editor-in-Chief Sven Geitmann went looking for answers and this is his story of what happened.

The breakdown of our heating system wasn’t really a surprise. It started causing trouble several years ago. But luckily for us, we had a maintenance contract with the manufacturer. Since we signed that contract, numerous components, including the igniter and the seals, had had to be replaced to keep the heater operational. Then, right at the beginning of the heating season, the thermostat turned off on its own several times a day, so the system was barely up and running. It was the day it became obvious we needed a new heater.

First, I called the installer who had given me the sad news of the impending end of the unit and asked him for a quote to install a new condensing boiler. He promised to forward the request in-house but said that he couldn’t offer me much. He didn’t know enough about residential fuel cells and a heat pump wasn’t an option either, as there was no underfloor heating in my house and the pump needed a low flow temperature. So, I went looking for some alternatives.

Chaos online

My initial, spontaneous search online didn’t yield much beyond some general descriptions of residential fuel cells, their workings and the chemical processes that take place inside a stack. Homeowners who end up in a situation like mine, however, would be much more interested in, for instance, a list showing them what kinds of heaters they can buy, what these heaters can be used for, which benefits and drawbacks they have, and how much they would cost. Likewise, a useful tool would be an online calculator to compare the prices and running costs of condensing boilers and home fuel cells.

I took a look at the new website of the Fuel Cell Initiative, or IBZ for short. It not only featured a nice set of ads but immediately showed me some information about home fuel cells and their manufacturers. After searching for a bit, I even managed to uncover more details on those units currently for sale on the market. However, the fuel cell device list that the IBZ used to publish had apparently been taken down. I went through my magazines and pulled out the H2-international issue from November 2016. I turned the pages until I found the article I had thought about. It included a table replete with specifications, images and prices of fuel cell devices people could buy two years ago.

Several things happened within the last two years, though. For one, Vaillant put fuel cell development on hold. Additionally, Elcore was acquired by Freudenberg. I emailed Freudenberg anyway. SOLIDpower’s BlueGen unit would not go on my list and neither would inhouse engineering’s inhouse5000+. Both were designed mainly for use in larger buildings, such as apartment complexes and offices.

When will it pay off?

One glance at the prices, and it became clear to me that I had to pay a lot more, or, more specifically, six times as much, for fuel cell technology than for conventional heating. Yet, home fuel cell buyers are rewarded with an incentive of up to EUR 11,000 and the units are seen as more efficient than traditional systems. What I had to ask myself was, “Do lower running costs mean I’ll be able to recoup my investment at some point? And if not, will I at least break even?”

read more: January issue 2019

2 thoughts on “Fuel Cells at Home: Looking for Options

  1. For the interested reader there is more information on fuel cells for domestic applications in the EU funded project PACE http://www.pace-energy.eu

    PACE is a new € 90 million public-private project co-funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking (FCH JU).

    The project brings together the five leading European suppliers (BDR Thermea, Bosch, SOLIDpower, Sunfire and Viessmann), and will focus on customer homes and small enterprises.

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