Clean Power

Published on November 4th, 2011 | by Chris Keenan


Residential Use of Fuel Cells on the Rise

November 4th, 2011 by  

The home of the future might see the end of power lines coming in from centralized electric utilities. Instead, imagine a combined heat and electric power system that employs a hydrogen fuel cell, generating all of the home’s electric power on the spot in a space not much bigger than what is now taken up by a water heater. The fuel cell uses hydrogen produced by a solar-powered electrolyzer compressor on and under the roof, making the home entirely energy self–sufficient and all of its power free except for maintenance costs.

Imagine no more electric bills and no more danger of lost power from a downed power line or system failure. All the power used in the home for everything from heating the bathwater to opening the garage door will be produced on the property itself.

The technology to make this happen exists today and is in use in commercial buildings and remote base stations. But according to a recent Business Wire article, the biggest growth projected in the industry over the next few years will come in the residential market. Stationary fuel cells are certainly a growing industry, with 9,000 units sold in 2010, an increase of 60% over 2009. And it’s expected that this figure will top 1.2 million units by 2017.

Despite this projected growth, the industry has a number of hurdles yet before the true growth potential can be realized. The technology needs to be standardized, economies of scale introduced to lower capital production costs, and the market visibility of fuel cell technology improved. Still, these are factors at play in all new, growing industries. The more difficult barriers involving developing workable technology have been overcome already.

If a solar-hydrogen fuel cell system for home power does become the norm, say in 20 or 30 years, it will radically improve energy efficiency and provide environmental benefits, but it will also do more than that. Just as the personal computer and the Internet have decentralized the information world, so a development that allows each residence to generate his own power efficiently will decentralize another crucial area of life.

The model of power generation that has held true ever since electricity was first marketed, in which big central power stations supply electricity over a vast distribution system to paying customers, will be replaced by self-sufficient homes beholden to no one. Overhead and underground power lines might become a thing of the past. The technology of the future may lend itself, paradoxically, to greater independence and decentralization, even as, in other ways, it ties the world more and more tightly together.

Join in the discussion in the comments below and/or share this piece!

Photo via kevin dooley

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About the Author

is a green and general blog writer. He also maintains a personal cooking blog. Find Chris on Google

  • Methusala

    I’ll be dead by then!

  • Check this DFC-ERG project out… Fuel Cell Energy is working on with Enbridge Energy… pretty straight forward and here again would solve a few problems by saving money and increase the efficiency of fuel used by a lot it looks like! Not to mentions other benefits… I liked this.

  • “Monster” Greenhouse Gas Levels Seen…

    Google it.

    Not my words… smarter people say its for sure happening without a doubt…

  • M7post

    Dear All – Martin typing in from the UK – a simple question outside of all the ifs and hows; Does anyone currently produce a standalone system for the domestic consumer ? – in our case we’d be a pair of mixed use live work properties . we’re working toward a projectnext year and would like to be off-grid utilizing this type of tech from the outset – any advice would be gratefully receievd – best wishes to all over there – martin

    • Anonymous

      Good luck. Nothing I know of, but hopefully someone can help out.

  • Anonymous

    Fuel cells run on hydrogen made from methane/natural gas extracted with fracking?

    Sounds like a plan. Not a good plan….

    Can someone develop an affordable system to make, store and use hydrogen in a fuel cell system for single home use? Possibly.

    But let’s not get too excited about it until we see working systems. Lots of ideas sound good but go nowhere.

  • It’s about time Fuel Cells are being used! They solve many problems at once… Nice Article.
    Just wondering what those Utility lobbyists in Washington are thinking about right now… party is starting to dwindle!!! Good … NO MORE ATTORNEY’S IN WASHINGTON!
    What’s the backup plan when the power goes out? Whatever it is it doesn’t seem to be working with 2million people literally freezing their butt off right now on the east coast… “oh… yes mr. senator this time the east coast electric grid came down because tree branches fell on some power lines”… senator: “oh … well don’t they trim those trees?” This is what you get when you mix politics and law degrees… Ignorance! FIX THE ELECTRIC GRID THAT WE ARE BEING CHARGED FOR…

    Go Fuel Cell Technology!

  • Dan – San Diego

    Your on target Chris, energy independence is a few short years away. The PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) Fuel Cells are CHP (Combined Heat and Power) devises that require a source to utilize the 150 deg. usable heat maximizing their efficiency. Currently the PEM design lacks throttling capability. The start-up, takes about 15 minutes and will require a batteries for back up until the FC comes on line.That also means storage for the hot water as a byproduct as well as hydrogen storage. Natural gas, propane or bio fuels will serve as the hydrogen supply until the cost of splitting water comes down and indeed that will happen. Fuel Cells are making big advances in other countries so the current administration needs to be paying more attention to the future of our hydrogen society.

  • Irjsiq (Roy J Stewart)

    Enough ‘Tomorrow’! This day’s news included an article which ‘stated’: CO2 levels are rising even faster than had been predicted just two years ago, in 2008!
    Everyone’s OX will be gored and finished-off IF NOTHING IS DONE !
    Every ‘Fuel Cell’ installed in a Residence, will add to the growing assurance that these devices have migrated from the Laboratory, and are ‘leaving’ factories in ever greater numbers . . . production costs WILL continue to reduce, and the Technology will continue to ‘Grow Stronger’ . . .
    One Very Viable Option, to make ‘Funds/Funding’ available NOW:
    Eliminate the absurd practice of ‘Vehicle Emissions Testing’, using those funds, ‘Individually or Severally’ to Secure Financing for Multitudes more Residences . . . a ‘reduced’ Utility payment would also help speed the transition to ‘Fruition’ . . . reduced Carbon additions to OUR atmosphere should diminish discernably and appreciatively in short order!
    Claiming that Utility Companies ‘have too much at stake’ to risk failure, is a damned weak argument If None of us can Breathe!
    Now is the time to ‘PUSH’ this residential ‘distributed’ power option!
    Another HUGE Benefit, as per the late October Surprise ‘Noreaster, Fewer families ‘huddling’ in Shelters!
    Roy J Stewart,
    Phoenix AZ*
    *Our ‘Power Usage’ skyrockets, May to Sept! We need relief as well!

    • Anonymous

      I completely agree.

      What we should be focusing on right now is deployment. On the individual and the government level.

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