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UK fuel cell industry could install 5GW by 2030, report claims

The report was commissioned by fuel cell companies including Ceramic Fuel Cells. Image: Ceramic Fuel Cells.
A new report funded by the fuel cell industry claims that over five million fuel cell smart power units could be installed in the UK by 2030, equivalent to 5GW of new generation, driving a “revolution” in distributed energy.

Specialist sustainable energy consultancy Ecuity was hired by six fuel cell companies to research and write about the potential offered by the concept of the technology being fitted at UK residences and small businesses.

Looking at fuel cells which unlock the hydrogen from sources such as natural gas, biomethane and hydrogen itself, Ecuity believes 90% of UK households – around 22 million properties – could be suitable for fuel cell smart power units. 

According to the report, main drivers for fuel cell adoption in the UK include the need to “keep the lights on” (providing uninterrupted power supply nationally), to mitigate the UK’s reliance on and exposure to natural gas imports and to reduce energy bill increases.

Ecuity claims that around 5.3 million such cells could be installed in the UK in the next 16 years, which could result in energy bills to consumers dropping by as much as 21%, although this would exclude income from any feed-in tariff (FiT) schemes. The extra 5.3 million fuel cells could represent the equivalent of 5GW of new generation capacity, the report says.

Debates about the current dominance of the ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers in the UK have been fiercely contested in the political arena, with the Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party advocating a “price freeze” on energy bills as a key aspect of his party’s policy.

Ecuity’s report claims that “Transferring power generation from energy suppliers into the hands of millions of customers would unlock a set of material benefits for the UK’s economy” and calls fuel cell technology, coupled with the energy management systems that give it the ‘smart’ suffix, a means of locally delivering clean, secure and affordable energy. A new community energy investment scheme, “The Big 60 Million”, a playful riff on the Big Six that refers to the population of the UK, aim to help transfer that ownership.

The report also suggests “key elements” of a policy framework that could facilitate the progress toward distributed generation based on fuel cells. Britain is holding a general election next year and Ecuity has formulated two sets of suggested measures – the first set with regards to the period leading up to the election in May and a medium term outlook, offering suggestions for the post-election period.

Ecuity suggests that in the nearer term, a grant scheme to support a fixed number of installations should be introduced, while intelligence and data should be gathered at a macro level this year to assess the market potential of fuel cells. Going forward beyond 2015, Ecuity asserts that the deployment of 5 million fuel cells by 2030 should be adopted as a target at national level. Ecuity also argues the case for the introduction of a FiT for fuel cells, citing the examples of other countries such as Japan that have taken a pro-active stance on the issue.

The report was commissioned by Baxi, Ceramic Fuel Cells, Ceres Power, IE-CHP, Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells and Viessman.

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