Off-grid living in Germany and Australia
Energy self-sufficiency, a dream for a number of homeowners, is now gradually becoming a reality. As isolated projects have already demonstrated, it is perfectly feasible to forgo a conventional grid connection and have a property’s entire energy needs met by renewables alone. The technology that makes this possible is on the tipping point of serial production following years of development, a move that could also bring the price down to a more acceptable level in the not too distant future.
Although connection to mains gas and electricity is virtually a given across Germany, some homeowners aspire to a life of independence from their regional energy supplier. Successfully completed projects such as those in Brütten, Switzerland (see H2-international, July 2018) and in Zusmarshausen, Germany (see H2-international, May 2020) show that the interest is there and that off-grid living is indeed a viable option.
Up until now, HPS Home Power Solutions has been the only German company to put a complete holistic energy package to the test and also subsequently bring it to market. Now the Berlin-based enterprise is experiencing some competition in the shape of Australian company Lavo Green Energy which intends to offer similar systems.
HPS begins serial manufacture
Talking about his company’s Picea product, Zeyad Abul-Ella, managing director of HPS, said: “With our system, PV units don’t just get short-term energy storage in the form of a battery; the integrated generation of green hydrogen and its use in the in-built fuel cell eliminate all the disadvantages associated thus far with photovoltaics.” According to information provided by Chief Sales Officer Roland Doll, in summer 2020 there were “several dozen units in the field” that were built by the company as part of its own pilot production run.
By the end of 2020, the energy storage system had gone into mass production with German contract manufacturing company Zollner. This was the result of an agreement between Zandt-based Zollner Elektronik and HPS that was entered into during summer 2019 allowing the 11,000-strong company to manufacture the Picea modules. The Bavarian contractor expects there to be sufficient production capacity available initially for several hundred appliances a year, increasing later to several thousand. Johann Weber, chairman of Zollner Elektronik, said: “Picea has the potential to be a disruptive innovation for the fact that it makes it possible for single-family and two-family homes to be supplied from an entirely CO2-neutral power source.”
With a headcount that has since climbed to over 100 staff members, HPS has now formed a maintenance team with its own HPS vehicles for the purposes of servicing its “innovative hardware product,” as Managing Director Henrik Colell termed it. What’s more, the Berlin-based technology business has already concluded initial distribution agreements with Berlin gas supplier GASAG and nearby company Energieinsel. HPS, which was founded in Adlershof in 2014 also received a further boost in June 2020 when EIT InnoEnergy, its partner since 2019, announced that it wanted to invest approximately EUR 3 million in the company. This came as part of a round of financing organized by HPS in 2019 which brought in funding exceeding EUR 12.5 million.
Upon receiving the grant from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Abul-Ella stated: “Thanks to this pioneering technology and the market access which has been made possible by EIT InnoEnergy and its network, we will soon be able to expand beyond our home market of Germany. […] Together we have succeeded in turning a mature prototype into a product that’s ready for the mass market – and much more quickly than was planned.”
According to company data, the Picea’s fuel cell module, which is provided by Ballard, has an efficiency of 55 to 60 percent. The appliance, whose fuel cell stack requires replacement after around five years, is supplied by 36 compressed hydrogen gas cylinders that store around 1,300 kWh in a 3 m2 area. A proposed five-figure price tag in euros for the system would result in a payback period of 15 – 20 years, HPS claims.
Competition from Down Under
One of the few competitors to emerge in the marketplace in recent months is LAVO™ Hydrogen Technology Limited. The LAVO™ appliance is named after Antoine Lavoisier, the scientist who coined the term hydrogen from the Greek “water-former.” The system measures 67 x 50 x 16 inches (1,680 x 1,240 x 400 mm), weighs 714 pounds (324 kilograms) including its four tanks and has an output of up to 5 kW. A total usable capacity of 40 kWh is reportedly sufficient to supply an average household for two days.
Lavo counts the University of New South Wales, UNSW, among its collaborating partners and their joint efforts have resulted in a system that is intended to meet the energy needs of both domestic and commercial properties. The design also makes it suitable for off-grid and back-up applications as well as telecommunication masts. In terms of sourcing, information supplied by the company reveals that the electrolyzers are provided by Enapter and the fuel cells originate from Nedstack. In addition to an energy supply system, Lavo is also looking to bring a hydrogen-fueled barbecue and bicycle to the market.
The Australian company, which was established in Sydney in 2020, uses metal hydride containers as a means for hydrogen storage. Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, executive director at Lavo and head of research at the hydrogen department at UNSW, called metal hydride storage a “trusted and widespread technology,” although until now commercial systems have been few and far between. In his opinion, however, hydride technology is “versatile, scalable, and reliable for consumer use.”
From June 2021, a total of 2,500 models are due to come onto the Australian market, priced at around EUR 22,000 (not including the PV system). Preorders against an advance payment of EUR 160 are currently being taken. In fall 2022, it is expected that the price will fall to EUR 19,000.