Energy Storage solid oxide printed fuel cell 1

Published on February 25th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


The Inevitable March Of The Fuel Cell

February 25th, 2015 by  

We’ve been having a lively discussion about fuel cell electric vehicles over here at CleanTechnica, but regardless of our opinions, it looks like fuel cells are beginning to seep into the mainstream marketplace. Take a look at this new palm-sized “Printed Fuel Cell” from the Japanese company FCO Power Inc., and you can see how the technology is ready for its closeup, if not in personal mobility then at least in other market sectors.

solid oxide printed fuel cell 1

The Sustainable Fuel Cell Conundrum Is Solvable

For those of you new to the topic, a fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle (FCEV for short), but it uses a chemical reaction to generate electricity on-the-go, rather than storing energy in a battery.

An FCEV is emission-free at the tailpipe, which sounds great and all that, but the technology itself is not necessarily clean. The fuel required to kickstart the reaction is typically hydrogen, sourced from natural gas. Think fracking, fugitive methane emissions, and earthquakes, and you can how that green tailpipe hides a grayish fuel supply chain.

Battery electric vehicles run into similar issues if you juice them up from a grid connection sourced with natural gas, or for that matter coal (petroleum is rarely used for grid-scale generation in the US so we’ll skip over that).

All this is by way of saying that when next-generation EV batteries, fuel cells, and other new mobility technologies get to the mass market, the sustainable fuel supply chain also needs to crank up to speed.

You’re already seeing that dynamic in play as more solar, wind, and other alternative energy options open up for battery electric vehicle owners.

For fuel cells, one solution under way is sourcing hydrogen from renewable biogas. That model lends itself to some wildly imaginative contraptions, such as a solar-powered, hydrogen-producing toilet (thank you, Bill Gates).

Also in the works is a solar-powered chemical reaction that splits hydrogen gas from water, including a “bionic leaf” that mimics photosynthesis.

The New Printed Fuel Cell

Where were we? Oh, right, the new Printed Fuel Cell. The developer, FCO Power Inc., is supported in part by  one of Japan’s leading tech investors, The University of Tokyo Edge Capital. The company’s fuel cell roots go back to 2005, when predecessor FCO Co., Ltd., hooked up with the cutting-edge Japan Fine Ceramics Center.

This is not your father’s ceramics class, by the way. The particular type of fuel cell that FCO Power specializes in is called a solid oxide fuel cell. Like the name says, a solid oxide fuel cell uses a solid, ceramic-based electrolyte instead of a liquid (the electrolyte is the part of a fuel cell or battery that holds the charge).

Solid oxide fuel cells have some advantages over other types of fuel cells, but conventional models are bulky and expensive, both in terms of materials and manufacturing.

FCO appears to have tackled both problems at once with its Printed Fuel Cell. The process involves fabricating an individual fuel cell layer by layer, as in 3-D printing, and then sintering all the layers together at once (sintering refers to a common method for fusing materials together without liquefying them).

The result is a single fuel cell only 0.4 millimeters thick, or about 1/10 the thickness of a conventional fuel cell. According to FCO that whisper-thin profile provides it with an output power density of 5 kilowatts per liter, which is apparently best in its class so far.

Fuel cells are easy to scale up — you literally “stack” them on top of each other. To assemble a fuel cell large enough to power a typical apartment in Japan, FCO created a set of 70-Watt stacks and hooked them together in a 700-Watt system. The whole thing still comes in at only 3 centimeters thick:

solid oxide fuel cell 2

Here’s how FCO envisions its product in Japan:

Use of this next-generation stack makes the hot module thin and compact. This means that it is realistic to develop SOFC systems for existing apartments, such as wall-mounted and porch installation. By leveraging high volumetric power density and low-cost stack technology, FCO Power and its alliance partners aim to commercialize the SOFC system in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics.

The “existing” part of the apartment equation is critical to the FCO business model, as fuel cells are already coming into use for detached homes and newly constructed apartments.

As for the fuel sustainability angle, solid oxide fuel cells can function with different fuels, which opens the door to more renewable sources. They can also tolerate a certain degree of impurity in some fuels.

But What About Personal Mobility?

If you know your fuel cells, you know that solid oxide fuel cells are not considered to be particularly good candidates for vehicles (at least not yet), so we’re not saying that FCO’s product is going to give electric vehicle batteries a run for the money.

However, familiarity with stationery fuel cells is already growing in the US, with more companies and property owners adopting them as a hedge against grid disruptions. Bloom Energy provides a good example in the private sector.

On the mobile front here in the US, Toyota, Hyundai, and other auto makers are only just starting to dip a toe in the FCEV market for individual consumers. The real action is the wave of FCEVs in specialty fleet markets including warehouse operations as well as light and medium-duty trucks.

The Defense Department has also been tackling FCEVs and other fuel cell technologies from a number of different angles, so every year more veterans are cycling out of service and into private life with hands-on experience.

The argument against them is that they inherently can’t match the performance of today’s battery electric vehicles even in the most ideal circumstances, let along tomorrow’s battery electric vehicles. Then there’s also the matter that they need fueling stations… while battery electric vehicles can be charged right at home.

But we’ll see what the future holds, in terms of mobility and home storage.

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Image Credit: Courtesy of FCO Power Inc.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • sault

    LOL, you rag on me for quoting “narrow[sic] solar/wind fan base” and yet link to an article written by a guy employed in the oil industry! His paycheck depends upon him not knowing his ass from a hole in the ground as far as renewable energy is concerned. Seriously, you’re doing yourself no favors parroting this fossil fuel company propaganda.

    • T S

      Forbes is a pretty mainline publication compare to the websites you cited.

      • sault

        It’s not written by Forbes, bro. It’s just a blog written by people. Check out the author’s profile and see his connections.

  • sault

    As for sources, try reading the articles I link to. Even without the damages due to climate change, coal causes between $300B and $500B in damages (negative externalities) every year in the USA alone. Considering yearly electricity sales from coal power plants are around $100B annually, coal SHOULD cost between $0.12 to $0.40 per kWh with a most-likely value of $0.20 per kWh.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Benjamin K. Sovacool is Director of the Danish Center for Energy Technology at AU Herning and a Professor of Social Sciences at Aarhus University. He is also Associate Professor at Vermont Law School and Director of the Energy Security and Justice Program at their Institute for Energy and the Environment.

    Sovacool has a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.

    His paper is a compilation of research papers published in peer reviewed journals.

    Are you really suggesting we ignore climate change?

    Germany does not have excellent solar resources but take a look at what a modest amount of solar does to the cost of electricity on a sunny day.

    Clearly solar is making German electricity cheaper. That said, offshore wind is where Germany’s best renewable resources are found and Germany is bringing a lot of offshore wind on line. In addition, Germany is refurbishing existing land based wind farms with taller towers and larger swept areas which will greatly increase their supply of onshore wind.

    • T S

      Interesting that his other credentials are not listed on the paper itself, which simply lists him as a visiting associate professor, which really says very little. The other points still stand.
      As to global warming potentially caused by CO2 emissions, the link between that and avian deaths is very, very difficult to measure accurately. Given the atmosphere is currently CO2 impoverished and the global mean temperature still quite low by long-term historic standards, it’s highly probably that CO2 emissions are actually good for birds as the benefit the plants the birds need for food and housing. Additionally, even the link betwen CO2 and temperature is tenous at present as most current computer models are now below the low end of their range of error, invalidating the models.
      Your charts proove that German electricity given the current solar installations is cheaper when the sun is shining, but that’s hardly a revelation. Given the bottom price in the chart with solar is higher than the average retail price in the US, it doesn’t proove that their system is delivering cheaper electricity overall and if anything prooves the reverse.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m not going to spend time with you picking Sovacool’s paper apart. If you don’t understand the impact climate change is having on species then you’re creating your own version of reality.

        Your comparison of US and German prices makes no sense. Do you even understand your argument or are you simply trolling?

  • Bob_Wallace

    It would take about 150,000 3 MW turbines to produce 40% of the 4,143 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity the US used in 2010. Foundations, access roads, transmission and ancillary buildings for those 150k turbines would use 36,040 acres. 0.0015% of US land area.

    To produce 40% of 2010 US electricity with PV solar we’d need to cover ~3,250 square miles with 20% efficient panels. That’s ~ 0.1% of contiguous 48 states. Existing rooftops, parking lots and brownfields would be more than enough.

    We’re moving to larger turbines and more efficient solar panels. The 0.0015% and 0.1% areas will shrink.

    Coal is off the table, regardless of how much land it uses.

    Nuclear takes a lot more land if one includes mines and refining as well as the land around reactors.

  • Bob_Wallace

    20 cents might be a bit high for new coal generation unless one adds in external costs. With full accounting new coal is likely higher than 20 cents.

    There’s no way to build a new coal plant and produce electricity for 4 to 8 cents. You’re trying to use the cost from a paid off plant and compare it to the cost of electricity from a new wind farm.

    The average selling price for wind in 2013 was just under 4 cents per kWh. About 2.5 cents per kWh with subsidies included.

    DOE “2013 Wind Technologies Market Report”

    Once wind farms are paid off the cost of electricity will drop to about 1 cent per kWh. Compare that to your 4 to 8 cents for coal. That’s the proper comparison.

    Wind has no external costs, unlike coal.

  • PantryStocker

    First article on this website that has tried to look at fuel cells with somewhat of an open frame of mind. Thank you, Tina. This was quite refreshing and informative.

  • sjc_1


  • AOK

    Tina thanks for breaking it down into understandable language.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Again yet another article purposed for trolling. Every sane person understans that there is zero relevance for hydrogen fuel cells even if we assume that fuel cells were free. Therefore the purpose of this provocative article is most likely just to provoke heated discussion that no one really enjoys.

  • Guest

    Why bash fuel cell for non-vehicular use? To me it seems like this is another potential way to derive economic value from excess renewable generation. From that perspective it’s in about the same class as opportunistic sea water desalination or opportunistic solar-powered water pump.

    If the fuel generation efficiency has a breakthrough, then it’s not hard to imagine that some state-owned factory would trickle-generate the fuel using excess renewables over a period of one year, and burn those fuel for electricity during some exceptional period. Of course there are still many ifs for this to make sense, but the premise seems to be sound to me. This makes solar and wind more valuable and replaces natural gas peakers. Why the hate.

    If someone can guarantee that some intermittent charging, good round trip efficiency after a long duration, reasonable volume, and cheap battery will arrive in a decade or two, of course then this kind of FC application is then unwarranted. But man we are talking about some dream batteries.

    Finally, why do we have to bring in the vehicular application angle to the debate? FCEV being a bad idea doesn’t mean other FC usages are bad ideas.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Fuel cells are even worse as an energy storage medium than transportation medium. If we ever figure out an abundant and clean source for hydrogen, then it makes always more sense to convert that hydrogen to synthetic Diesel and synthetic Kerosene and use it as synthetic transportation fuel to replace fossil oil products than to use it as energy storage medium.

      Hydrogen fuel cells cannot compete with batteries as energy storage medium, due to inherent low efficiency of hydrogen production and fuel cells.

      • Michael G

        So no one should ever research FCs? Or not report on such research? Perhaps we can make an “index of forbidden research” sort of like the Catholic Church’s index of forbidden books?

        • Hazel

          “Research” is $5-10M/year for problems for which there is no good scientific solution, like efficient water electrolysis, decent storage, platinum-free PEM catalysts, etc. Yes, let’s do that.

          Whet we should *NOT* be doing is dumping $250-270M/year into large scale-up engineering deployment projects for something with such dismal current prospects.

          Fortunately the Obama administration understood that hydrogen fuel cells were a dead end. Though Congress prevented killing as much as they tried to, they managed to cut it to about 40% of its Bush-era peak.

          • Michael G

            I had thought it was the Trillions of dollars Bush put into the Iraq debacle that was a problem for all other govt. expenditures. Now I see that it was millions ($250M is 0.00025 = 0.025% of $1T) on FCs that was the problem. Thanks for enlightening me.

          • Hazel

            Surely, ~$2T in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ~$2T in tax cuts, overwhelm hydrogen spending. But the Department of Energy has a limited budget, and Bush diverted a large share of it away from renewables and toward the hydrogen distraction.

          • Michael G

            The DoE has such a limited budget because of the $T’s you cite. Without that there would be lots more money for all energy R&D. Your complaining about the wrong money. It doesn’t help your case.

          • Hazel

            So by your logic, energy R&D should have been about $400B/year higher under Clinton, right?

          • Michael G

            The fact that it wasn’t then and isn’t now is what you should be complaining about, not the trivial amounts going into FCs.

            Here’s a question I never get an answer to – care to be the first? Question: “If I were forming policy and allocating budget money, why would I listen to you and not the many, many Ph.D. researchers at world class universities around the world who say that FCs are worth spending money on for research and prototyping?”

          • Bob_Wallace

            Come on, you have had your “should we research fuel cells?” question answered.

            Yes. Continue research.

            But if you mean research = using public money to build a hydrogen infrastructure and put hundreds of FCEVs on the road, then no.

          • Michael G

            For about the gazillionth time I repeat. Research without prototypes to see if research works in the field is useless.

            And my other question. Why would any govt. allocator of funding for R&D (note the “D” as in prototype) listen to non-scientist *you* when so many scientists and engineers with far more qualifications think it’s worth doing the R&D including prototyping?

          • Bob_Wallace

            When a company prototypes a new car/engine/whatever they build a handful and test them out.

            I’ve seen exactly no one object to Toyota, Honda or any other company using their own money to build prototypes.

            I’ve seen exactly no one object to government funded research into better fuel cells.

            You make up this anti-research stuff, Michael. It’s dishonest.

            What you see is a general fact-based opinion that hydrogen fuel cell cars are not going to be viable. And you see some objection to the use of public money to build a fueling infrastructure for hydrogen.

            200 taxpayer funded hydrogen stations is not prototyping.

          • Hazel

            Depends on which FCs. Certainly SOFCs and related devices which convert natural gas fuel to electricity at very high efficiency are worth it, for now at least.

            But I’m sure I can find you a whole lot more Ph.D. researchers at world class universities who say hydrogen fuel cells for transportation are not worth it. That’s part of why the Obama administration under Chu — a very green administration — tried to shut them down.

            The main reasons are that they still have fundamental research problems, they are extremely inefficient at using electricity, and they require a multi-$trillion investment in a new hydrogen infrastructure. We already have a massive infrastructure for electricity distribution. We already have a massive infrastructure for natural gas distribution. We already have a massive infrastructure for liquid fuel distribution (gasoline, diesel, ethanol etc.). To spend the extra $trillion, we’d better have a very good reason.

            And it just isn’t there. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit more life cycle CO₂ than electric vehicles when using reformed natural gas, or require more electricity when using renewable electricity. They use large amounts of platinum group metal catalysts, for which there is no substitute. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

            Contrast the energizing infrastructure costs. There are 20 hydrogen refueling stations in the nation, vs. 2000 Tesla fast chargers all built by a tiny startup (on an automotive scale) in the past two years!

            The marketplace has already decided, EVs are surging, FCVs are dying. I just hope we don’t throw more good taxpayer money after bad.

          • Michael G

            So, in summary, you have no technical background or economics background but you think not all scientists agree that FCs have a future so you choose to ignore those who think it does. Based on EVs having taken less than 1% of the market, you project they will take the remaining 99.3% because existing trends go on forever. I guess that answers my question as to why anyone in decision making authority should listen to your arguments.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You have no facts to use in rebuttal so you resort to a personal attack?

            BTW, you keep trying to turn a support for research into support for utilization and critiques of utilization into calls for no more research. It’s dishonest and won’t be tolerated.

            If you are actually a doctoral student then start acting like one.

          • Hazel

            Why does it matter? If I told you I have a Ph.D. from MIT would that change your view of what I’ve written?

          • Michael G

            I was simply pointing out that you are an inexpert observer and should not assume you have perfect knowledge of the possibilities. I am pretty sure you don’t have a Ph. D. because they are not so intemperate.

            I know many Ph.D.s – immediate family, extended family, friends, associates. None of them talk with certainty that they are right the way you (and many others here) do. All the science Ph. D.s I know are cautious and all too aware through training and experience that these systems are complicated and anything can happen. They are also aware how govt. funding works and see the tiny proportion of govt. money that is involved. These are trivial sums you are talking about.

            If the GOP congress cuts FC funding, they will likely do it in the name of saving taxpayer dollars and take out tax credits and research $$ for PV, Wind, and EVs along with it. You’ll have done harm and no good will come of it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, why don’t you go back and read what Hazel wrote.

            I believe you’ll find it different that what you currently think she wrote.

          • Hazel

            You have no idea whether or not I am an “inexpert observer”. Do you have a PhD? People with PhDs come in many personalities.

            I don’t claim to have “perfect knowledge of the possibilities”. But I do know that with today’s technology:
            • Water electrolysis is horrendously inefficient (about 20-25%)
            • PEM fuel cells use a whole lot of platinum group metals
            • The cheapest most efficient technology for hydrogen production, which is natural gas reforming, is at best 54% efficient, including electricity generation with the CO product

            This technology just isn’t ready for prime time. And until new research changes those things, we have no business spending taxpayer money on a massive infrastructure build-out. Yes, let’s fund a bit of research. But not on the same scale as technologies which provide real cost-effective solutions here and now.

            Your GOP argument is a straw man. We need to tell the truth about PV, wind, EVs and hydrogen. Or are you suggesting otherwise?

          • Michael G

            Hmmm. I didn’t provide facts? I’ve done it before but no matter. Here are some sources.

            Dr. Whishart writes on: “Fuel cells vs batteries for vehicle powertrains”

            Dr. Wishart has a BS and MS in engineering physics with a minor in mechanical engineering, and Ph.D in mechanical engineering – specializing in “Hybrid vehicle powertrains, fuel cell systems, exergy analysis, greenhouse gas inventories”.

            Another site of interest links to a variety of sources:

            There are a variety of fuel cells besides Hydrogen. Description here:

            Some well-to-wheel charts:


            Now you get to provide your sources.

            Let R&D see what develops. Just because you or I don’t know of a substitute for Pt catalysts (or whatever problems there are) doesn’t mean there is none. All these issues are active areas of research and until we reach the promised land of FF-free enrgy, should be supported fully.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, I read your first linked paper. Wishart deals with neither the sourcing of hydrogen from methane nor the higher cost per mile of driving with hydrogen. Especially higher with “clean” hydrogen.

            He builds his case on the range/rapid refilling of FCEVs but ignores their major problem.

            I’m not sure we can put him in the objective column.

            Is there any reason to read further or have you selected one sided sources?

          • Michael G

            Of course I selected one-sided sources – to show that there are intelligent well-informed people on both sides. Your ability to decide who is more to be supported is based on what deep technical knowledge of your own? I cannot believe your hubris – deciding which engineering problems are solvable, foretelling what the driving public will buy, foretelling the economics of energy sources years from now.

            How do you justify this incredible presumption?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, aren’t you the guy claiming to be in a doctoral program? Can you not detect a one-sided presentation when it stares you in the face?

            You’ve been asked before to identify a route to cheap hydrogen. You have not supplied one.

            Until there is cheap enough fuel to power FCEVs they are very unlikely to be purchased in high enough volumes to keep even one assembly line in business.

            And, according to Toyota, sales have to reach the 100,000 unit level in order to bring prices down to where the vehicles are competitive in terms of purchase price.

            Here’s a quote from you. ” They lose $100K on everyone sold.” $100k losses on 100k vehicles is a heck of a lot of money. $10 billion.

            You really think Toyota will lose that kind of money and pay for fueling infrastructure?

            I think I’ve asked you this question before. More than once. And I recall no answer. But I’ll try one more time.

            Who are the 100,000 people who will pay close to $50,000 for a car that has no advantages over a ICEV but costs more per mile to drive?

          • Michael G

            I’ve answered all your questions many times. We’re coming from different perspectives. I think problems can be solved and you apparently don’t.

            That was some time ago I was in the doctoral progam in physics. I switched over to math and eventually went into software. I teach physics and math now.

            Our conversation is at an end.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, since the conversation is at an end I suppose I won’t ever know where you answered my questions many times.

            I recall a few attempts to dodge my “Where’s the market” question but no actual answer.

            Just so you understand where I’m coming from I believe that over the coming centuries we will answer many questions. However I do not think it wise to predict that we will implement solutions which have yet to be invented until they are invented.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I read your second. I particularly liked this part…

            “The BEV has two advantages over the FCEV:

            Less fuel cost per mile today (but higher total life-cycle costs including vehicle costs)”

            As if there was a route to making H2 cheaper than electricity.

            And including vehicle costs? The Toyota FCEV is priced higher than the Bolt and Model 3. Then add in the much higher operating costs.

            Another fail.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I skipped down to the Treehugger link…

            I liked this quote –

            “Chairman Uchiyamada has said that hydrogen fuel cell technology is “simply a better battery.””

            A better battery? Compared to what, an old shoe?

            Using hydrogen to store electricity is incredibly inefficient.

            Again, the cost per mile issue is passed over.

            Oh, and the point that fuel cells can be scaled up to run trucks and buses? We’re already running them with batteries.

          • Michael G

            The Toyota FCEV is an advanced prototype. They lose $100K on everyone sold. That is hardly a production vehicle. I have never argued that one is superior to the other – only that neither is problem free, and both deserve support and a rudimentary infrastructure for rreal-world testing – and that there are intelligent, highly technical people arguing that it makes sense to do this.

            You are setting yourself up as some sort of expert (which you apparently aren’t) who can foretell the future and decide what should be supported and by how much.

            That’s just silly.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, I am not setting myself up as some sort of expert. I’m simply taking publicly available information and using it rationally.

            Speaking at the JP Morgan Auto Conference in New York, Toyota’s senior vice president Bob Carter said that Department of Energy estimates suggest that a full tank of compressed hydrogen will cost around $50. This will fall to $30 in time, however.


            ($50 / 300 = $0.17/mile. $30 / 300 = $0.10/mile.)

            Carter also stated that per mile costs for EVs were about 3 cents per mile. 17 / 3= 5.7x 10 / 3 = 3.3x

            You posted documents that ignore the reason FCEVs are very unlikely to gain a toehold, let alone gain a significant market share. Cost per mile.

            Furthermore, your definition of prototype is unusual. I have never heard anyone claim that a car which will be sold in dealer showrooms is a prototype.

            Let’s look at a definition – “a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.”

            Toyota built and tested prototypes prior to announcing they would be selling production FCEVs. Toyota talks about prototypes and the production Mirai which they intend to ship this year.

          • Hazel

            Let me quote from first article: “The efficiency of an EV is unsurpassed [by hydrogen vehicles].” “Fuel cell performance has been lacking. The fuel cell is too expensive. Hydrogen storage technology performance is inadequate. Hydrogen production pathways have not developed. Hydrogen refueling stations have not materialized.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

            Also from the article, “There are currently 15 public [hydrogen] stations in Germany, with plans to build 400 by 2023.” There are right now 4800 charging stations in Germany, 12 times more than the plan for hydrogen stations eight years from now!

            Or what about well-to-wheels efficiency? The site shows 200 g/mile for natural gas → hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which is quite a bit better than gasoline. If the choice is between natural gas → electricity → electric vehicle and natural gas → hydrogen → fuel cell vehicle, fuel cell vehicles do about 10% better in both energy and emissions, as long as hydrogen production is centralized to minimize natural gas leakage.

            However, for renewable electricity, EVs go about four times more miles than FCVs, because water electrolysis is horrendously inefficient. The US grid is about 35% carbon-free today, and coal plants are shutting down left and right because of mercury pollution. New electric power capacity last year was about 53% solar and wind, and those prices keep falling while natural gas has been rising for the past couple of years, so that trend will increase. California is already over 60% carbon-free, so EVs make a lot more sense than hydrogen production there.

            So let’s keep doing hydrogen research. But let’s not waste taxpayer dollars on scale-up and deployment until some of those fundamental limitations described above have been overcome.

        • Jouni Valkonen

          Of course you can research fuel cells, but you cannot change the laws of physics, at the moment. Even the theoretically best performance for fuel cells is not good enough.

          • Michael G

            I keep getting this “Laws of Physics” stuff and I have never understood what it refers to. The first time I got it I replied I have a degree in physics (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and asked what he was referring to. That particular individual never mentioned it again so I remain uninformed. Any links to what you mean?

            When I look up fuel cells, I find a lot of distinguished universities doing research in it, including Harvard, MIT, and many universities around the world.


            Here’s an article from MIT. Are these people foolish to pursue Fuel Cells? Should we tell them to stop?


            Personally, I want to see the end of ICEs and GHG emissions and I don’t care how that happens. If batteries can do it great, if FCs, fine, if hamsters on a treadmill, okay by me.

            Right now, all I see are lots of press releases and a few prototypes in grand total less than 1% of US auto sales. One can certainly be hopeful but declaring that the battle is over and victory for EVs is premature.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            Yes they are fools, or just perhaps better word is that they are ignorants. Although Science as an institution is very smart, individual scientists are not very smart. People in general have very weak understanding what is possible theoretically and what is possible in practice when economic considerations need to ba considered.

            Fuel cell can never match even remotely internal combustion engine at any metrics. The production, distribution and compression of hydrogen is just always more expensive than the production and distribution of liquid fuels. There is no need for comression when we are using liquid fuels.

            Also if we think fuel cells as an energy storage medium, they cannot compete e.g. with pumped hydroelectric power that has solar cover to prevent evaporation. This is simple economics that is directly derived from the laws of physics.

            In real life however even pumped hydroelectric power cannot compete with distribute battery energy storage, but I assume that you do not have knowledge on the economics of smart grid. so lets leave this away from the discussion, for now.

          • Michael G

            Pumped hydro to power ships? Or battery-powered tanks? Or woudl you prefer to keep ICEs for those uses?

            I see lots of world class universities and scientists researching fuel cells. On the other side I’ve got a few commenters here (and no reference to their academic or professional qualifications) saying they know more than all those PhDs at Harvard, MIT, Oxford, UC Berkeley, etc., etc.

            Why should I take you seriously and not them?

          • Jouni Valkonen

            For every fuel cell researchers there 10 qualified researchers who claims that they are just on the verge of battery breakthrough. You see, you cannot trust people who are smarter than you, because if they are smarter than you, then they can also fool you. If we consider commercial applications, then we should not be interested on basic research that is done in universities, because more than 99 % of all basic research does not deliver commercial applications on short term.

            Besides, Elon Musk is about hundred times smarter than all those Harvard PhDs combined. Do you really think that you can have very different opinion compared to Elon’s well argumented scientific notion that fuel cell cars are bullshit?

            Battery powered tanks are the best because they do not pollute our environment. All military applications be battery powered. E.g. United States spent about trillion dollars on the development of new jet figter plane. Imagine if United States had spent trillion dollars on the development of electric aircraft? This would have been about 100 times more R&D spendings on electric transportation than the rest of EV R&D spendings combined.

          • Michael G

            You cannot trust people who are smarter than you? So you can only trust people who are stupider than you? Then we shouldn’t trust Musk because he is 100x smarter than all Harvard PhDs and presumably smarter than you or me?

            Battery powered tanks, too. My, oh, my.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            For example, a lego toy tank is battery powered. It can even have some crude artificial intelligence thanks to Lego EV3 Mindstorm robotics.

          • eveee

            You want the laws of physics? Its really laws of chemistry.

            This source should satisfy your lust for chemistry if not physics.


            The fuel cell alone has a maximum theoretical efficiency of 83% converting chemical to electrical energy. The rest is lost as heat. Its not ohmic heating, its the chemistry. Thats what cannot be overcome.

            The NREL source also explains why theoretical electrolysis efficiencies are never reached. It explains that in hydrolysis, energy is expected to be absorbed from the environment, not the electrical source, but the ohmic heating actually supplies the heat. Its hard to avoid ohmic heating and with a ready sink… well the electrical conversion efficiency falls.

            The reverse happens in the fuel cell, where chemical heat is generated.

            The electrical to chemical transformation in a chargeable battery can be much better, levels of 95% and higher.

            And storing and transporting hydrogen require energy.

            Its much easier to store and transport methane or liquid fuel. Sythetic fuels make more sense as storage than hydrogen.

            But we diverge from the article which really isn’t about hydrogen at all because the fuel cells are not strictly hydrogen.

            If you expand out from there to flow batteries, which really are sort of fuel cells, you see where the real action in fuel cells is… flow batteries and/or power to liquid/gas, but not hydrogen. Its the hard way. Its the wrong medium. Too diffuse, leaks easily, burns without a visible flame, and embrittles metals. There are easier ways that require less breakthroughs. Why bother when other storage mediums like methane or ethanol are easier and cheaper.

          • Michael G

            I read through the article. It goes into some detail on different ways to calculate efficiencies, but to me all the efficiencies cited seem quite high. Are you claiming batteries are markedly more efficient? If so, then that is what you want to reference.

            FC vs ICE:

            “A fuel cell is twice as efficient to convert carbon fuel to electricity than combustion does. Hydrogen, the simplest element consisting of one proton and one electron, is plentiful and exceptionally clean as a fuel.”

            ….”Even with these limitations, the fuel cell as propulsion system is in many ways superior to batteries.”

            and later on:


          • Bob_Wallace

            I guess you failed to notice that the article did not talk about the energy loss in producing hydrogen from water.

          • eveee

            I don’t just give references to prove a point. I let the reader decide. More pertinent to this discussion is that Lithium batteries in particular have real world charging efficiencies better than the best theoretical fuel cell.
            While it is true that fuel cells are more efficient than Carnot efficiency of ICE, fuel cells are less efficient than batteries.
            The quoted advantage that starts with fuel cells as a propulsion system is in many ways better than batteries is cut off. From your graphs, it looks like the advantage is storage specific volume. I think FC physical limit comments are related to efficiency not volumetric density.

            I draw your attention to the stoichiometric equations and the various energies, particularly heat. Notice that there is a heat absorbed in electrolysis from the environment. That heat is pretty close to the same amount as the one released to the environment by the fuel cell. The fuel cell efficiency is limited by this heat. The battery does not have this.
            In electrolysis, the heat is absorbed from environment. But the heat generated by the current is a loss that generates heat and this heat is absorbed. That heat is a loss in electrolysis. Practically, scientists have been trying to overcome this electrolysis limitation for some time. The electrolysis and fuel cell losses limit fuel cell efficiencies to lower values than batteries. Battery efficiencies are 95% round trip. The very highest theoretical fuel cell efficiency is 83%. Electrolysis also has losses, but theory is less simple. Between these, the electrolysis fuel cell pair real world efficiency is at best in the 70% range. Hydrogen storage and transport losses are not even considered.
            I believe that would be considered theoretical efficiency to leave storage and transport issues out.

          • Michael G

            If the FC efficiency is greater than that of ICE, even if it is less effficient than that of batteries, that makes it a possible candidate for replacement of ICEs. There are other factors such as convenience and safety which could argue for one over the other (as in the chart I included above).

            The energy efficiency of coal-fired electricity and incandescent lighting are horrrible, yet they are cheap so people use them.

            I am content to let the market decide and for R&D to continue in all areas. My only point is and has ever been that we can’t exclude FCs or insist protoyping of FCs be unfunded because we see problems with it.

            When I was in grade school, all the experts seemed to say atomic fission would replace FFs. In grad school, it looked like nuclear fusion. Geothermal looked promising. I was sure passive solar houses would be everywhere. I never imagined wind power would be a significant factor.

            Nothing ever happens the way you expect, problems develop where you didn’t imagine. Things do not happen the way logic might dictate. Keep the options open.

          • eveee

            The thing is, FC or stretch that definition to flow, are doing some work right now. Its just that hydrogen is not the best medium. Germany is doing research on mixing hydrogen at low levels into the methane pipes, and converting electricity to fuels.
            The plan is to convert excess electricity that way. Its just more expensive than hydro for electrical storage.
            But the Germans are thinking heating, not just electrical storage, and that may make sense. They can use FC heat in a kind of cogeneration scheme. That is probably the way Japan is considering it.
            Still, its harder to use that excess heat.
            When you are doing air conditioning, excess low temperature heat is not so helpful.
            Fuel cells might have applications for converting liquids to electricity.
            What I had in mind was transportation. Right now, the only alternative to FF is biofuels. Biofuels have limits. It would be nice to have an alternative that did not depend on biomass.
            If you talk about unbalanced funding, funding for fusion is way out of proportion. Really, funding for renewables is terrible compared to all other previous sources.

          • Michael G

            I was in the physics doctoral program at U. of Wisconsin at Madison which was and is one of the centers of fusion research. At the time I was there, it seemed like just a few technical problems stood in the way. None of us in the physics dept. could have imagined it would turn out to be as hard as it is. Nor as expensive. I have said the same thing in similar forums – that if you’re going to count the pennies going to renewables count the dollars going to fusion.

            But fusion is at this point very, very expensive. I don’t know how you can do it more cheaply if you are going to do it at all. And it really is worth doing – more so than the CERN accelerator. IMO.

            The lessons from fusion research inform my discussion of renewables. Just because you *think* something is about to solve all the world’s energy problems – that the press releases all tell you it is only a few minor details away – doesn’t mean anything. Problems happen.

            If you want to talk about energy density, look at fusion. in theory it is hard to beat the energy density. The devil is in the details. Or in laymans’ terms, “I’ll beleive it when I see it.” Until then, keep all options open.

          • eveee

            Yep. And try to keep your options green. 🙂

          • Mopey

            If only there was a use for heat in a vehicle… Like for heating!

            I’m told the range for a BEV drops significantly if you need to turn on your heater during winter whereas the waste heat of the fuel cell could be used for exactly that purpose. So the battery would decrease in efficiency while fuel cell would increase.

            Seems like efficiency is a tricky thing if you look outside of the box…

          • Bob_Wallace

            With the use of heat pumps there is a lot less range loss while heating.

            And heat pumps could use the waste heat from the batteries. Batteries give off heat as they discharge.

          • Mopey

            The point I was making is that efficiency isn’t as clear cut as claimed by the previous poster. FCEVs can use excess heat for other purposes, like heating, BEVs are required to use their stored electricity to heat the vehicle at the cost of range, thus changing the calculation for efficiency.

            The negative Tesla review in the NYT ( was related to the issue of range anxiety due to the need to heat the car in cold weather, reducing the range of the car much more so than expected.

            So even if the BEV has a heat pump, it’s electricity that’s used that’s not available for driving, thus changing the efficiency.

          • Bob_Wallace

            FCEVs can use excessive heat for cabin heating.

            EVs can use excessive heat for cabin heating.

            Does the FCEV a significant heating advantage which would send people to FCEV dealerships? I doubt it. It might make FCEVs a better option for inland Greenland.

            Do remember, you are looking at 17 cents per mile for the FCEV (Toyota’s number) vs. 3 to 4 cents per mile for the EV.

            The NYT article was based on a pile of lies. I hope you understand that. The author deviated from the agreed on route, drove faster than agreed to, and failed to complete charging when required. And then reported none of that in his article.

          • Mopey

            It continues to amaze me that you cannot acknowledge a point in which EVs are at a disadvantage, however slightly. But the point is not the EVs or FCEVs would sell better because of cabin heating and the need to use stored fuel/electricity for one and using waste heat for another. It’s about the fact that it affects the efficiency of the vehicle that is often cited to make a point for EVs. It’s a complex picture and in this case, BEVs have very limited if any ability to use their excess heat for cabin heating.

            And your oft-cited EV fuel costs are meaningless if you have no way of recharging or have to wait hours to do so.

            That you criticize the NYT article is telling though. It was a very important article, with a very detailed follow-up by the author to Musk’s reply. The author spent a large part of his trip on the phone with Tesla. But here no critique is allowed. EVs good, 4 legs bad…

          • Bob_Wallace

            I have no trouble at all acknowledging FCEV advantages over EVs. I’ve done so many times. FCEVs fill more quickly than EVs can be charged at a L3/supercharger. Which means that a FCEV driver can arrive at destination a few minutes ahead of a EV driver on a 500 mile driving day.

            And FCEVs may be able to heat their cabins with less range loss than EVs. (Both are going to use some electricity to move heat around.)

            Now, in light of the EV advantages in terms of cost per mile, less time spent filling/charging over a year, vehicle cost, and infrastructure cost/maturity do those small FCEV advantages give FCEVs a market edge?

            No, I’m afraid they do not.

            BTW, it is incredibly easier to find a place to charge an EV than to find a place to fill a FCEV. The ratio is thousands to almost none.

            As for the NYT article the fact that the author spent time on the phone with Tesla during the trip does not mean that he followed the agreed upon plan.

            One does not unplug before the car has been charged enough to carry one to the next destination and then expect to reach that destination.

          • eveee

            Yes. And the waste heat is …. a waste in the middle of a hot summer day. And it places an even more difficult cooling load when air conditioning and cooling the FCEV.

            See articles about range anxiety and heating.

            FCEV efficiency wouldn’t increase as in range. It would just use the excess heat to heat the cockpit instead of wasting it to the atmosphere.

            If you want sauna heat in shirtsleeves in Norway winter with an EV, not so good. If you use preheat and electric seats, vehicles switch to heat pumps instead of resistance heating..

            If you try to do everything the old wasteful way…


            It doesn’t seem to be a problem for Model S owners. A solvable issue for early Nissan Leaf adopters.

            Actually, highway speed cuts range cuts range at least as much as temperature. Despite that, many manufacturers have so so aero drag coefficients. Tesla is good with 0.24 or less, but the Volt and Leaf started out with a rather mundane 0.30. Not impressive.

            Much of the temperature range issue has to do with battery design.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You should know how much energy it takes to split a H2O molecule. And how much energy it takes to compress the H2 for use in a vehicle.

            That’s energy lost. Laws of physics stuff.

            I see no one talking about stopping fuel cell research. That’s a red herring you seem to be introducing. What people are talking about is how inefficient hydrogen is as a energy storage medium.

          • Michael G

            What is your science background Bob? I’m looking at all these distinguished universities like MIT, Harvard, and Oxford around the world researching fuel cells and against that I have people like you? What are your academic credentials? Done any research in this stuff? Or are you just repeating what others have said?

            The laws of physics include the laws of thermodynamics. Whle the amount of mass-energy (E=mc^2 so all the same stuff) is always the same, “useful” energy is *always* lost in transformation. Hydrogen to Helium in the sun, light to electricity in PVs, DC to AC in inverters, AC to DC in batteries, batteries to motors in cars. Entropy always increases. Our sun will turn into a cold hard diamond in a few billion years. There is *NO* loss-less way to convert useful energy from one form to another. Any science background requires knowing these laws of thermodynamics. HS chem would do.

            The question then is how much energy is lost. If there is overcapacity, then there are times when energy is being “shed”. That energy can be lost forever or put in storage of some sort. Chemical batteries are one way, so is compressed air, pumped hydro, FCs, cryogenic superconductive magnetic storage rings, etc., etc.

            Then there is the question of how much that energy costs. If PVs continue their current downward march in cost – which they are pretty much guaranteed to do, then the solar energy may be so cheap that losing 50% is not worth worrying about. And of course, if it is overcapacity, then it is essentially free.

            Research includes working prototypes used by real people. The anti-FC people here go freaking bananas at that. There are 125M homes in the US. If every one of them gets a $10,000 PV system that is $1.25T. People here complain about a few $million to see if lab ideas actually can be built and work. Not to mention $Trillions for wars of choice to protect oil supplies.

            This anti-FC fervor would be too ridiculous to bother responding to except that if it generates enough noise it might get out of little sites like this and discredit the entire green tech movement.

            The entire anti-FF movement is built around trusting the IPCC and similar scientific groups when they say we are in trouble. Yet you object to similar scientists taking a way to solve this that you personally don’t approve of? Logical consistency?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, hydrogen is a lossy way to store energy compared to batteries.
            Unless that gap is narrowed it will cost more to operate vehicles with hydrogen.

            Do you know a more efficient way to split the water molecule and compress the hydrogen? Until someone finds a way to do the job with less energy hydrogen hits a wall. You can’t use 2x to 3x as much electricity per mile as a EV requires and be competitive.

            Have you considered the cost of extracting and compressing hydrogen? The cost of the infrastructure?

            If so, have you thought about building an immense amount of infrastructure which would sit idle for perhaps more than 90% of the time, waiting for some surplus electricity? We couldn’t possibly run our vehicles on the small amount of surplus electricity we’ll produce. We would need hydrogen plants running 24/365 just like the oil refineries we now use.

            There’s no anti-FC fervor here that I see. What is seen is a recognition of the very high cost of operating a FCEV with hydrogen. It just makes no sense to advocate for a technology that is priced off the table.

            You’ll find a lot of pushback for multiple technologies which aren’t economically feasible.

            And, interestingly, you’ll find a few people who advocate for those technologies while apparently ignoring the economic issue.

            Nuclear would be wonderful if it weren’t for its cost. (Plus those safety issues and time to build.)

            Small wind turbines would be wonderful if they produced electricity at an affordable price.

          • Michael G

            So okay, by your silence I gather that you have no technical background.

            Yet, you put your analysis about whether problems can be solved up against 100s of PhDs in science and technology at leading universities who think these problems are amenable to solution. You are arguing that if you can’t solve them right here and now, no one else should be allowed to try.

            And yet you accept the considered scientific opinion of the IPCC. And you make predictions about 10-20 years in the future treating press releases (mostly meant to garner funding) as if they were established fact.

            Research and prototyping is, and should be continued on all possible avenues.

          • Bob_Wallace

            My technical background has no bearing on this discussion. It takes only a first grade knowledge of math to understand that 17 cents per mile is greater than 3 cents per mile (Toyota’s FCEV and EV numbers).

            Can you identify a leading scientist or university that has found a way to extract hydrogen from water and compress it using less energy that current technology requires?

            You keep throwing out the red herring that if someone thinks a particular technology is impractical at this point in time then that person is against further research. That is dishonest, Michael. Cease. Quit trying to pull that crap.

            I suspect you will have a hard time finding a prediction I’ve made about the state of anything 10 to 20 years out. Again, you fabricate. Care to prove me wrong?

          • Michael G

            If people are simply saying that FC are impractical at this time, I am mostly in agreement. People, including staff writers here, have strenuously argued that protoypes and their requisite FC refueling stations should not be funded. That is research.

            You predicted that all ICEs would be replaced by EVs in 10 years. I pressed you for a number and you gave it – thanks but there’s your proof. I then pointed out how many Gigafactories that required and you predicted that would happen over the next 10 years.

            Do I have to go through all the postings you made to find it? It wasn’t that long ago.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “You predicted that all ICEs would be replaced by EVs in 10 years”

            No, Michael, I did not.

            ” I then pointed out how many Gigafactories that required and you predicted that would happen over the next 10 years.”

            No, Michael, I did not.

            You are simply making stuff up.

          • Michael G

            I was referring to comments in:


            where you say:
            “I’m not predicting a timeline. I can see it possible that within 10 years of having <$30k, 200 mile range EVs the sales of ICEVs could be very low. Minor niche low.

            Following a domination of sales by EVs it might take roughly 20 years to get ICEVs off the road."

            I apparently misunderstood your comment and apologize for my error.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, here’s what you claimed…

            “You predicted that all ICEs would be replaced by EVs in 10 years”

            And here’s what I said….

            “I’m not predicting a timeline. I can see it possible that within 10 years of having <$30k, 200 mile range EVs the sales of ICEVs could be very low. Minor niche low."

            Please read very carefully. Multiple times if necessary. What you claimed that I said and what you found do not match.

            Do you understand the difference between a prediction and a statement of possibility?

          • Michael G

            I apologized. What more do you want?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, I somehow missed the last sentence.

          • bob fc

            I am with you Michael G,
            As a european i know hydrogen and fuel cells wil be mainstream after 2030.


          • Bob_Wallace

            Can you explain how you know what the state of transportation will be after 2030? How have you obtained that information?

  • Joe Viocoe

    I am a fan of Solid Oxide fuel cells.

    But this is hardly an indication of “inevitable”.

    It is 2015, so lots of investors are looking toward fuel cells, since they have been long promised to be arriving this year for the masses.

    But any other year, we generally see dozens of upstarts touting their breakthrough battery system.

    Show a scalable prototype… until then, throw it on the vapor pile.

  • Hazel

    Sorry Tina, I generally like your work, but this article is seriously confused.

    First, it confuses solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), which convert natural gas to electrical energy more efficiently than other methods, with hydrogen fuel cells, proposed for “fuel cell electric vehicles” (FCEV).

    The “breakthrough” noted here was about solid oxide fuel cells. In a combined heat and power (CHP) situation, efficiency can approach 90%. This results in a lot more usable energy per unit of CO₂ emissions — with the caveat of methane emissions from natural gas production and transportation.

    In contrast, FCEVs are extremely expensive (requiring platinum catalysts), extremely inefficient when converted from electricity, and extremely impractical since they require a $1T infrastructure buildout. Their only redeeming feature is relatively efficient conversion of natural gas energy to power transportation. But the grid is sufficiently low-carbon today — and becoming more so every year — that EVs are already more effective uses of energy resources. And they use existing electricity production and distribution infrastructure.

    Second, this is not a breakthrough. Google “single-step co-fired solid oxide fuel cell” and see that it has been around since at least 2006 — it’s ancient history in research terms.

    In its time, it was a breakthrough, as three separate firings are capital-intensive, representing a large fraction of SOFC cost. But even with this advance, SOFCs are still not practical — they’re just too expensive per watt of installed power. For applications requiring base-load power and heat, they may have a niche, that is, until battery performance/price eliminates the intermittency problem of solar and wind. Perhaps FCO gets SOFCs a little bit closer to the market, but I don’t see anything new here.

  • eveee

    Fuel cells might find a niche somewhere. They are not going to be used for FCEV.

    They are not going to be used for storage without a breakthrough.

    Storage breakthroughs are unnecessary for renewables integration now, and may not be for some time in the future, if at all. They will have to compete with pumped hydro, pumped air, and flexible generation for long term storage, and batteries, flow cells, and flexible generation for fast response.

    Why wouldn’t biogas or natural gas turbines be cheaper? Why wouldn’t hydro be cheaper? Why wouldn’t demand response be cheaper? Why wouldn’t transmission expansion and enhanced grid management be cheaper?

    They all are. And they don’t require breakthroughs.

    According to an NREL futures scenario report, about 10% of the mix is storage in a 80% renewables by 2050 scenario.

  • newpapyrus

    Methanol fuel cells make much more sense since they can be efficiently used with plug-in-hybrids. And methanol can easily be derived from the pyrolysis of urban and rural biowaste through the synthesis of the resulting syngas.

    Since biofuel production waste about 80% of its carbon dioxide, you could dramatically increase the production of methanol by simply adding hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water through nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar technologies.

    Bio-Methanol can also be converted into gasoline.


    • sault

      Actually, methanol fuel cells have fairly low efficiency:

      Basically, the high temperatures and pressures needed to run a MFC efficiently are such a high parasitic load that it’s not even worth it to try. And due to “methanol crossover”, the methanol needs to be in a weak solution for the fuel cell to run optimally. This decreases the kind of energy density you would think you could get from straight-up methanol.

      “And methanol can easily be derived from the pyrolysis of urban and rural biowaste through the synthesis of the resulting syngas.”

      Well, methanol from natural gas is selling at $1.25 per gallon:

      Since methanol from waste feedstocks has barely even begun to be made on a commercial scale, it’ll have a long way to go to be competitive. But regardless, waste streams could only provide 5 – 10% of our fuel demand even if things pan out on other fronts (unlikely).

      “Since biofuel production waste about 80% of its carbon dioxide, you could dramatically increase the production of methanol by simply adding hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water through nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar technologies.”

      Great! So we’ll lock ourselves into our current wasteful and destructive ways of making biofuel and add in all the financial burdens / extreme inefficiency of the “hydrogen economy” to boot! Sure, let’s waste 1/3 of the renewable energy we generate just to make hydrogen that then has to react with syngas, causing even more energy loses, just so we can keep the inefficient internal combustion engine cranking for another few decades. Yeah, not going to work.

      • JamesWimberley

        Aviation? Shipping? Long-distance trucks? Tractors? Construction machinery? It’s possible that electric powertrains will be developed for these, but they are not existing deployable technologies, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, we need to keep looking into biofuels and synfuels.

        • Jouni Valkonen

          Batteries are perfect for long distance trucking. Semitrailer truck requires just approximately four or five times bigger battery than in Tesla Model S to provide 300 mile range. That will have weight about 2500 kg and it can be charged for additional 300 km range in mere 30 minutes. Driver need to have anyway about 45 minute breaks after each 300 km driving.

          From this it is very easy to calculated the levelized cost of battery per mile, if we assume 8-10 year daily service life for semitrailer truck battery and after service in truck use, battery is repurposed as energy storage medium. And the cost of semitrailer battery is assumed as 250 dollars per kWh. 85 kWh x 5 x $250 / kWh = 100 000 dollars. Semitrailer truck requires about 400 000 dollar worth of Diesel fuel if we assume 3 dollars per gallon.

          Therefore batteries are perfect especially for long distance trucking and this should be the first application where battery electric vehicles are completely replacing ICE drivetrain. Why we do not have any other examples than BYD, is exactly why we do not have any other commercially viable electric cars than Tesla Model S. There is just too much inertia on markets and technology is well ahead of markets. Also electric trucks are useless without proper fast charging infrastructure and someone should invest considerably on fast truck charging infrastructure. Heavy trucks are requiring about 500-800 kW fast charging.

          • Michael G

            You Europeans are so cute. 300 km will take you through 3-6 countries in Europe. It won’t even get you to the next big city in most of the US. SF-LA = 500km, Chicago-NYC 1280 km. Long haul truckers in the US often work in pairs (husband and wife) and drive non-stop for hours and hours.

            Anyway, what about shipping? Aviation? As Mr. Wimberly asked.

          • eveee

            We use sails for ships and we halt air travel altogether. Get your tickets now.
            Seriously. There is going to be a population shift away from coasts… well at least farther up the hill…towards new energy sources… and away from places solely supported by unsustainable sources like FF.
            And flying will probably be more expensive.

  • ADW

    Interesting, but take a look at the time line:
    2005 first idea
    2015 working prototype
    2020 estimated first commercial product

    They have 10 years into it so I guess they will keep going. But what will the market be given the march of solar and batteries for the home?

    • Michael G

      I think your question answers itself. We have no idea what is in the future for batteries and solar. And residential use is only 20% of total energy use in the US. We should explore all the research options we see. Tina is reporting on some interesting research avenues for industrial and commercial uses.

      • ADW

        …”The “existing” part of the apartment equation is critical to the FCO business model, as fuel cells are already coming into use for detached homes and newly constructed apartments.”

        I read that as consumer level spending and I wonder if the cost of Fuel Cells and fuel can overcome the steep decline in solar and battery storage.

        You read it as commercial “apartment building” maybe? Which would be a different financial model depending on the size of the apartment complex. So it might be a solid fit in that case.

        • Michael G

          I don’t see it as FC >vs< PV, but as *complementary*. Generating H2 for FCs using PVs or wind when more electricity is being generated than can be used. Batteries have a lot of problems in terms of durability. People selling used Prius's have to put in nearly $4K for parts and labor to install new NiMH batteries or the car has essentially no resale value. $5500 for new Leaf batteries – parts & labor, even after $1,000 for the old battery. This doesn't get mentioned much in the excitement over the latest tweet about EVs from Tesla or GM.

          PV + Battery storage for residential and commercial application isn't competitive yet. Might as well explore all the options.

    • Hazel

      The “single-step co-fired solid oxide fuel cell” did not originate at FCO. Google it and see — others have been working on it since at least 2006. The company has been looking at SOFCs since 2005, but only recently has tried to do the single-step thing.

      I agree solar and batteries are likely to take off before SOFCs gain any significant traction.

  • RobMF

    Blah. Show me one FCEV that can be plugged into a solar powered garage or charging station or one fuel cell that can efficiently store the energy I can produce at home with solar panels.

    What? Crickets? I thought so.

    • SMG_VII

      So you willfully ignored the point that this is developing technology not ready for mass production. Well done /s

  • Mike333

    The Inevitable DEATH march of the fuel cell.

    1) The Volt has made this car obsolete 4 years ago, with a cheaper better solution that doesn’t require a 2 million dollar per station roll out of highly explosive hydrogen stations.
    2) Solar cell advances are going to deliver 2 cent per kWh power in less then 10 years.
    3) GM to release the Bolt, a 200 mile range EV in 2 years.
    4) Our current carbon output will bring us 6 degree centigrade temperature increase with current carbon inventory.
    5) The human population is in a self caused extinction event right now, another carbon solution is Suicide.

    • SMG_VII

      Hyperbole like that is no way to be taken seriously.

  • JamesWimberley

    Clever stuff. But the progress in fuel cells is paralleled by progress in batteries, so the race stays the same: with batteries ahead, for reasons of fuel-cycle efficiency that don’t go away.

  • AndyFromAmerica

    NEESC Announces 2015 Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Plans for Eight Northeastern States

    SOURCE :

    NEESC, administered by CCAT, created individual plans for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to aid in advancing the deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

    EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster (NEESC), administered by Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT), today announced the release of the 2015 Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Development Plans for each of the eight states in the Northeast U.S.

    Created individually for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the plans were produced with support from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and input from industry stakeholders including automakers, government agencies, gas suppliers, and hydrogen and fuel cell companies to advance deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

    “These plans should be very helpful for policymakers to better understand the potential market for fuel cell technology,” commented John McGuinness, marketing leader, GE Fuel Cells.

    Demand for new electric capacity is expected to increase, due in part to the replacement of older, less efficient, base-load generation facilities. Fuel cell technology can help meet electric grid needs as a high efficiency, distributed generation asset that can be located directly at the customer’s site.

    The use of distributed generation will increase efficiency, improve end-user reliability, provide opportunity for combined heat and power, and reduce emissions at schools, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, and other mission critical facilities.

    The deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technology will also help meet carbon dioxide emissions reduction and zero emission vehicles (ZEV) requirements, and utilize renewable energy from indigenous sources such as biomass, wind, and photovoltaic (PV) power.

    “States that support the development of clean, efficient technologies such as fuel cells, have realized the benefits, including increased energy reliability with low or zero emissions,” commented Morry Markowitz, president, Fuel Cell Hydrogen and Energy Association.

    Hydrogen and fuel cell technology can also be used to provide zero emission vehicles for mass transit and fleet operations. The 2015 plans identify opportunities for the states in the Northeast region to more fully employ hydrogen and fuel cells for transportation. Such uses could make the region a showcase for renewable energy while reducing air emissions.

    “We’ve defined actionable goals for the deployment of stationary and transportation applications in each of the states,” stated Joel Rinebold, director of energy initiatives at CCAT. “These goals represent a short-term investment for long-term productivity.”

    According to Rinebold hundreds of small businesses in the hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain are poised to capture a substantial share of the global energy and transportation market. The manufacture and implementation of this emerging technology could significantly increase the number of clean energy jobs within the region.

    The plans cite cumulative goals for the Northeast states: approximately 1,300 megawatts of installed stationary fuel cell capacity; 10,800 fuel cell electric vehicles; 640 fuel cell powered buses; and 110 hydrogen refueling stations to support the fuel cell electric vehicles and buses.

    Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster (NEESC) is a network of industry, academic, government and non-governmental leaders working together to provide energy storage solutions. Based in New England, New York and New Jersey, the network focuses on the innovative development, production, promotion and deployment of hydrogen fuels and fuel cells to meet the pressing demand for energy storage solutions. NEESC is administered by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. and its industry partners, Maine Hydrogen Energy Center (HEC), Massachusetts Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Stakeholders (MHFCS), New Energy New York (NENY), and the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA).

    Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT), a nonprofit economic development organization headquartered in East Hartford, Conn., is a leader and go-to resource for strengthening competitiveness and high-tech business development in the state, region and nation. CCAT focuses on three core areas: technology, efficiencies and workforce development, with expertise in manufacturing technology, IT, education and workforce strategies, and energy solutions. Through the synergy of its experienced teams, advanced technologies and extensive partnerships, CCAT provides manufacturers, educators, government, nonprofits and entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to tackle economic challenges, compete and succeed.February 20, 2015 – 7:36 AM

  • Neptune

    Seems good for seasonal storage and combined heat & power.

  • Benjamin Nead

    “Battery electric vehicles run into similar issues if you juice them up from a grid connection sourced with natural gas, or for that matter coal. All this is by way of saying that when next-generation EV batteries, fuel cells, and other new mobility technologies get to the mass market, the sustainable fuel supply chain also needs to crank up to speed.”


    Yes, but it’s already been substantiated that it would require three times (!) the amount of energy to produce hydrogen cleanly (ie: water electrolysis via solar PV) than it would to use solar to charge a battery. On the battery charging via renewables, scenario, one can easily tie home rooftop solar PV into the existing electrical grid. With water electrolysis to make and store hydrogen at home (I’m assuming this is what fuel cell proponents are envisioning,) there is no clean cut way to separate the PV electrolysis hydrogen production from the PV grid tied electric. You would have to employ two separate PV arrays . . . and one of them producing electricity in the form of hydrogen at a third the efficiency of the other.

    Nice to hear that next generation fuel cells are going to be less expensive and more compact, as is shown with the 3D printed ones described in the article. But until there is an effective way to scale up the production of truly clean hydrogen, we’re still stuck back at square one.

    • Michael G

      I don’t see why the PVs have to be separate. If your PVs supply electricity to the grid and your home use, why can’t you include H2 generation in the home use? I have a degree in physics including several electronic circuit analysis courses so you don’t have to be afraid to get technical in your reply.

      • Benjamin Nead

        Well, I don’t have a degree in physics. But that isn’t required to determine that the cost of such a system is well beyond that of most home owners. It’s so much more cost effective and efficient to simple tie the solar PV to the grid.

        • Michael G

          I don’t see your argument at all. The H2-generating electrolysis device would just be another device like your washer or refrigerator, or a battery charger. Why do you think it has to be separate?

          • Hazel

            How much does your H₂-generating electrolysis device cost? How much does a home EV charger cost? Answers: about $500 for the EV charger; on the H₂ generator: sorry, can’t buy one just now. (I’m assuming either way you need an electrician to install a 220V outlet.)

            How many miles per kWh on a hydrogen vehicle fed from this H₂-generating electrolysis device? How many miles per kWh on an electric vehicle? Answers: about 3-5 miles/kWh EV, about 0.75-1.2 for hydrogen. Hydrogen miles cost a lot more than gasoline miles this way, EV miles cost a lot less.

          • Michael G

            Here’s a water based H2 generator on Amazon. It’s a small one to recharge small FCs. No electrician required.


          • Bob_Wallace

            How about using your physics and math skills to tell how long it would take to generate enough H2 to drive a car 100 miles?

            And how many miles per MWh you would get?

            (Don’t forget to compress.)

          • Hazel

            Great. Runs on 110V, right? So it’s limited to about 1.5 kW max. At 20% efficiency, that’s 300 W.

            I can get an extension cord for 20 bucks to plug an electric car into a 110V outlet and charge a battery four times faster. Or if the outlet is in the right place, no need for an extension cord.

            For any serious charging — or hydrogen generation — you need an electrician and a 220V high-amperage outlet. Then you have to pay for your hydrogen electrolysis system, and connect an explosive gas line safely to the car. And hydrogen production will go four times slower than vehicle charging, because of its pathetic efficiency.

            Home hydrogen generation will never compete with home charging. Period.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Production of clean hydrogen at scale isn’t a problem. Sure, the efficiency is lower than that of charging and recharging batteries, but the practical applications are different.

      • Benjamin Nead

        I’m afraid it is. Water electrolysis is simply not going to do it and, until that can be worked out (if ever,) we are destined to have hydrogen made from the rather dirty process of steam reformation of natural gas.

        • Michael G

          Which is why it is important to keep funding R&D in FCs just as we do with batteries, EVs, and everythign else.

        • JonathanMaddox

          “Water electrolysis is simply not going to do it”

          Water electrolysis already produces hydrogen at scale. It isn’t economically competitive with today’s fossil fuel sources of hydrogen, true (electricity is expensive, gas is relatively cheap) and it also won’t compete with batteries for applications where batteries are the right tool for the job, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scalable.

          “There are 30 PtG plants at various levels of commercial production throughout Germany and neighboring countries.”

  • anderlan

    Well, at least it’s not a Hydrogen fuel cell, wasting untold money and energy for transport and storage while *hiding* its carbon emissions beyond even the wasted energy in conversion (the leftover C in CH4 or any other original hydrcarbon the H2 is stripped from).

    But even renewable hydrocarbon fuel cells are cursed to a niche by the fact that biological solar conversion efficiency does not and will never match photovoltaic’s efficiency. Easy answer.

    • Benjamin Nead

      Did I miss something? The fuel cell in the article isn’t running off hydrogen?

      • anderlan

        I thought I said, “[thankfully] it’s *not* a Hydrogen fuel cell.” You didn’t miss anything. Then I bashed H2 fuel cells. Then I also bashed even renewable hydrocarbon fuel cells, but to a lesser extent. Then I beat the drum of solar PV’s inescapable superiority wrt solar conversion efficiency, because that drum is always worth beating.

    • Michael G

      The problem with the popular renewables like wind and sun is they are variable by season, time of day, and random chance. So to provide 100% of power demand during periods of low wind and sun you have to either have a LOT of long term (several months long) storage or provide sufficient over-capacity so that during periods of low supply you still have enough.

      The current cost estimates for solar and wind aren’t counting this in so the costs for now appear lower than they will once wind and solar become over 50% of electiricty generation. If PVs continue their cost decrease then efficiency won’t matter because the electricity will be too cheap too meter.

      Demand fluctuates right now and as a result roughly 50% of electricity geneated is never used because it is impossible to always generate the right amount of electricity. Excess is generated to be sure to have enough.

      Batteries wear out a lot faster than PVs so a reasonable way to accomodate an excess of PV power would be to put it into storage by way of FCs using water electrolysis.

      • sault

        Nobody is saying that we should go 100% wind and solar-powered over night. Bringing up this strawman argument is pointless and you should know better. It’ll take decades to even reach 50% of electricity generation, and for places that have already reached that milestone like Germany, they have had no major problems like the ones you are fearmongering about. And you fail to mention that spreading out renewable energy generation over a wide geographic area, increasing offshore wind power, more intelligent grid operations, intelligent demand management and efficiency improvements that are currently being implemented make a lot of concerns over renewable energy “dispatchability” moot.

        “Demand fluctuates right now and as a result roughly 50% of electricity geneated[sic] is never used…”

        Source? Are you seriously claiming that electric utilities are so bad at their job that they require 2x as many power plants to be built burning 2x as much fuel as necessary? I’d be really interested in where you got this claim.

        • Michael G

          I think that at even HALF the current growth rates and price drops we are seeing in PVs and wind we will be approaching 100% renewable generation by 2035. That is decades away, and FCs are a long term project, and likely used in many industrial and military applications long before they are used in cars (if ever).

          Storage and excess generation at peak will be an issue way before 2035. All the things you mention will certainly help, but there is no way to guarantee 100% availability of energy without sometimes having an excess. How much we’ll know when we get there. Here’s an article in Yale360:

          I think wasted electricity is even worse than I stated but take a look at “electricity related losses” in:

          The EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2014”, Table B2, (Page 194 in PDF)

          available at:

          I have no idea why you accuse me of “fearmongering”. Is generating too much renewable energy (like at 2 AM on windy nights) something to be afraid of? Such a derogatory term isn’t conducive to reasoned discussion.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “there is no way to guarantee 100% availability of energy without sometimes having an excess”

            CF for US coal is under 60% and under 30% for NG. That tells us that we have a lot of excess capacity during much of the time.

            Just like having FF capacity we don’t always use we’ll likely have wind/solar capacity that we sometimes curtail.

        • Mint

          It’s not a strawman argument. He’s making an excellent point (putting aside his moronic claim of 50% wastage).

          Fuel cells will make for very economical peakers to fill in gaps when aggregate wind is low for too long of a period to be covered by batteries.

          Some demand will only be called upon 500 hours a year or less, so capital costs dominate over fuel costs, and fuel cells could cost only $0.2/W (automakers are targeting $0.05/W).

          • Neptune

            I agree. It’s a good point.

        • T S

          I wouldn’t exactly bring up Germany as a model to follow. Their policies have resulted in energy prices skyrocketing 200% and their leaders are now saying it is a failure and looking to back away from the subsidies. Eventually we’ll move to more renewables, but solar still needs to develop before it’s competitive in a free market economy. Wind takes massive amounts of space, already areas of Texas larger than many European nations are wind farms and only produce a tiny portion of the needed power.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You seem to be badly misinformed.

            The wholesale price of electricity has been dropping in Germany as they add renewables to their grid.

            The reason energy (energy, not electricity) prices have risen in Germany is the rising cost of imported natural gas.

            Solar has reached grid parity in more than 50% of all countries and should reach grid parity in 80% of all countries within two years.


            Your “massive amounts of space” for wind is another piece of misinformation. That claim comes from the dishonest practice of including the space between turbines, land that is still available for original use (farming, grazing, wildlife).

            I bet you get your news from Fox.

          • T S

            Actually, my massive amount of space for wind farms is based on driving through them. You’re correct that the space in most cases can still be used for other purposes, although I also find it interesting how the NIMBY tends to happen when it comes to wind power, particularly offshore in the north east.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you’ve actually driven through wind farms then there is no excuse for your dishonest post about land use.

            NIMBY for offshore happened when a wind farm was purposed fairly close to shore.

            Bird kills by wind farms is a minor problem. Eliminating coal use and moving to wind will mean a massive net gain for birds.

            We’ve already dealt with German retail prices.

            Your appearance as a FUD disseminator is reaching its end.

          • T S

            Nothing dishonest about it. I’ve seen them and really the areas where they are were not used for much other than, oddly enough, oil wells, and very, very scattered ranching.
            Coal as used in the US is no longer a problem for birds, but nuclear would be even better.
            German retail prices we posted some data on, but I countered and I see no response to my figures. Germany has nearly the highest energy cost in the world.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Tom, parking lots often have lamp posts. Does that mean that the lamp posts take up all the space within a parking lot?

            Let’s look at some pictures…

            Bird deaths aren’t a good thing regardless of the numbers. So why don’t we stick with coal and nuclear energy to save birds? Let’s check to see if that would work.

            Based on bird kills per gigawatt hour of electricity produced.

            Wind farms kill roughly 0.27 birds per GWh.

            Nuclear plants kill about 0.6 birds per GWh. (2.2x wind)

            Fossil-fueled power stations kill about 9.4 birds per GWh. (34.8x wind)


            Germany’s cost of producing electricity is below the EU27 average and continues to fall.

            What you are looking at is the cost of retail electricity in Germany. German consumers pay a lot of taxes on top of the cost of electricity.

            Let’s look at how costs break out for retail customers in Germany…

            In 2013 the average household electricity rate was about 29 € cents / kWh according to the BDEW (Energy industry association).

            The composition:

            8.0 cent – Power Generation & Sales

            6.5 cent – Grid Service Surcharge

            5.3 cent – Renewable Energy Surcharge

            0.7 cent – Other Surcharges (CHP-Promotion, Offshore liability,…)

            In addition there are some taxes & fees that go straight into the governments budget:

            2.1 cent – EcoTax (federal government)

            1.8 cent – Concession fees (local governments)

            4.6 cent – Value added tax (19% on all of the above) – (federal, state & local governments)

            The cost of electricity = 8 cents. 6.5 cents for distribution.

            So 8 + 6.5 or 14.5 euro cents go to electricity purchase and delivery. About 19 US cents. That’s higher than the US 12.5 cent average, but less than a penny higher than New York and Connecticut.

          • sault

            “…energy prices skyrocketing 200% and their leaders are now saying it is a failure…”

            Ummmm….source please?

            If you cared to do any research to back up your claims instead of regurgitating fossil fuel company propaganda, you would know that this very website discovered that German utility companies increased their profit margins on retail electricity by 700% all while wholesale electricity prices plummeted due to renewable energy production:


            And if you cared about facts, you would know that the price of Russian natural gas has skyrocketed during the time frame I think you’re talking about. And if you cared about facts, you would know that the renewable energy levy is only 10% of the average home’s electricity bill:


            “…solar still needs to develop before it’s competitive in a free market economy…”

            Well, fossil fuels need to start paying for the damages they cause through pollution and climate change. Coal at $0.20 per kWh isn’t all that competitive, even WITHOUT the costs of climate change:


            “Wind takes massive amounts of space, already areas of Texas larger than many European nations are wind farms and only produce a tiny portion of the needed power.”

            Again, source please? And you do know that farming and ranching can continue on the 99% of land that wind farms don’t take up within their footprint, right?

            You obviously need to detach your self from polluter propaganda. Please spare us the fact-free rantings of a fossil fuel stooge and go elsewhere.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You may have edited. But you didn’t correct your mistakes.

          • T S

            Only edit I did was add the source.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Tom, I’m going to offer you a deal.

            You’ve been posting a bunch of incorrect stuff. I’m willing to assume you’ve been mislead by reading pro-fossil fuel/nuclear misinformation. Let’s assume you’re a rational actor and not a FF/nuclear shill.

            Here’s what you can do. Turn your claims into questions.

            Don’t tell us that wind farms take massive amounts of land. Post something like –

            “My understanding is that wind farms take massive amounts of land. Is that correct?”

            Someone here will be glad to answer your questions and give you links to data if you desire.

            Continued posting of misinformation earns people a trip to the exit door.

          • sault

            Bob, that’s a very generous assumption. But just look at TS’s profile. He / She spends a lot of time at National Review, and given their comments thus far, TS is probably just a teabagger with above average articulation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Baggers are starting to come around on solar. Perhaps wind as well in states where wind is creating jobs and improving economies.

            Perhaps some of them are open to having their beliefs challenged with data not supplied by Koch and Murdoch.

      • eveee

        Lets define a lot of storage. From the NREL renewables future study, storage is about 10% of generation and about a third of reserves.

        Most of variability is dealt with by demand response (interruptible load), flexible generation, transmission expansion, and better grid techniques like the newly implemented Energy Imabalance Market which slots reserves and dispatch on shorter time periods of 15 minutes or less. Storage is smaller than those in an 80% renewables by 2050 scenario.

        Storage is not limiting renewables integration now.

        As for economics, particularly the costs of reserves, papers by Milligan outline how difficult it is to assess and how integration costs of conventional generation is overlooked and often more expensive than renewables.

        One conclusion is that present day rules of thumb are only good for about three years. After that, load and generation adjust to each other in different ways. This is one reason why isolated economic comparisons between sources give limited perspectives. A more meaningful perspective might be had by assessing various mixes and the net effects.

        Future operation would be different today, with less base load and more flexible sources.

        50% of electricity generated is never used?

        Are you referring to spinning reserves? Those are on standby and are not actually burning much fuel. Renewables are curtailed sometimes, but I never saw a number as high as 50%..

        • Michael G

          I am still digesting the NREL PDF you referenced but here is where I got the “50% of electricity is not used” number:

          Look at “electricity related losses” in:

          The EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2014”, Table B2, (Page 194 in PDF)

          available at:

          • eveee

            Thanks for the precise link.

            I will return the favor. The fastest way to understand it is to look at the graphic on page xxii ES-1 first. This outlines the scope of the study. Its really a bunch of different studies with different constraints, targeting 30% to 90% renewables integration and meeting demand for different demand growth.

            Then to get a quick flash to some results, look at the 80% by 2050 graphics results, page xxx.

            The regional breakdown is on xxxii.

            After that, its digging for details. What does each scenario imply. There are some nuggets in there stated as conclusions. For example, constraints don’t prevent the 80% renewables from happening. They change the response. Like less transmission means more local generation, more storage. Not surprising.

            What is surprising is that the level of needed storage is so low, only 10%. When you look at the graphic, its suddenly becomes obvious why. 20% is conventional, some of which is dispatchable. 20% is dispatchable renewables, and 10% is storage. That means about 45% of it is dispatchable. With 50% variable, 45% dispatchable, demand response, transmission expansion, and a little curtailment or overcapacity, much is achievable.

            Hmmm. It gives BTU as the input. Sounds like they are starting with primary energy or fuel heat value and converting to electricity. That yields all the usual Carnot losses, but it doesn’t quite match up, because base load efficiency is not that high.

            Give yourself plenty of time to digest the NREL study. Volume 1 is 280 pages long.

          • Michael G

            Thanks for the fascinating link. I think that dispatchable renewables is the key element to support minimal long range storage. The charts you directed me to show an enormous amt. of biomass in the 90% renewables scenario, a surprising amt of CSP, and very little PV with nuclear lasting well into 2050. This seems to me contrary to the way things are developing. With those assumptions, you have so much dispatchable energy you hardly need any storage, as you note. In a sense, biomass is acting as your energy storage system.

            I was working from an assumption that energy in the future – 2050 if not earlier – would be roughly 10% hydro, 50% wind, 30% PV, 10% everything else. Partly because we have so much solar and wind readily available and it is developing at a pretty good clip. While I would love to see jets running on algae-derived fuels, I don’t think it is economical enough in terms of land use for much else. I was also not limiting myself to the US since so much energy growth will come from developing regions in South Asia, Africa, and S. America where biomass, nuclear, and even hydro may not be readily available.

            So, different assumptions, different results. Obviously, this is all speculation, so we will have to see what develops. If history is any guide, we will all be completely, laughably wrong. Exciting times we live in.

          • eveee

            You can sure disagree with the perspective they paint from a 2010 viewpoint. LIke the remaining conventional mostly coal rather than natural gas. From todays perspective, it looks the opposite. Still, their methodology indicates a robust conclusion. The results don’t depend on any particular part of the mix.

            I was thinking solar and wind at almost 80%, too. There needs to be a fair amount of flexible generation to adapt to the variable renewables. Although this amount can change, IMO, it can never be 20% dispatchable and 80% variable. There has to be agile sources to balance variability. And its not hard to do with 80% renewables, but not all solar and wind.

            One reason things are developing differently right now is that in the world of chaotic, non planning, fuel displacement happened first. No need for storage or value from CSP with or without storage. But things like offshore wind with more “on” time and CSP with storage will have greater value when conditions change to high penetration. As Milligan says in some of his economic studies, rule of thumb don’t work beyond three years. Demand and generation mold to each other in new ways. For example, there will be almost no room for slow, inflexible base load. And daytime peak demand is removed by solar. When negative daytime pricing appears, other things will be stimulated by the change.

            Baseload disappears as Diesedorf says. Its replaced by agile, quick starting and ramping sources of all kinds.

            I have not read anything in the paper about air transport, but they do attempt a look at the impact of EVs. Air transport is not a significant slice of the demand by percentage. Any futures study is just a crystal ball 35 years in the future, but the real import of this is that it takes into account what is possible with primarily what we have today, with the goal of matching demand and determining grid transmission. It shows it really is possible. Not necessarily optimal. But possible.

            Just to be careful, there is a difference between the generation and installed capacity percentages. Storage is not included in generation, but it does contribute to agile response to balance variability. My percentages are done in that light.

            Since dispatchable renewables are only about 20%, a change in CSP with storage or biofuels does not make much difference. The amount of biofuels is not that great on a percentage basis. Its a fraction of the 20% dispatchable renewables that includes hydro, geothermal etc.

            In these scenarios, there is much fast dispatchable generation or storage. Nearly all of the 20% conventional can be dispatchable. Between storage and dispatchable renewables, its not hard to imagine 40% dispatchable to balance variable renewables.

          • Mint

            That’s loss of energy when generating electricity, not loss of electricity. Nuclear and coal are ~30-40% efficient, NG is 40-60% efficient, etc. That’s where those figures come from.

          • JonathanMaddox

            Sorry, I’ve been doubling up, these days-old comments appeared on my screen as soon as I posted my own saying the same thing. Nevermind.

          • JonathanMaddox

            Ok, I get it. “electricity related losses” are *energy* losses, not all of which are *electricity* losses. In a thermal power station only 25%-60% of the heat produced by burning the fuel is ends up as mechanical power in the turbines, with the remainder discarded in the cooling loop or up the chimney. Further heat losses are incurred in the generators themselves in the process of generating electric power.

            Then there are actual electric losses (which still don’t count as “never used”). The generators “self-consume” some electric power to actuate the electromagnets. Then there are further losses in transmission and distribution.

            Non-thermal generation such as hydro, wind and PV do still incur some of these losses, but obviously not the lion’s share involved in the Carnot cycle.

      • JamesWimberley

        Where do you get the “several months” need for storage? One of the Fraunhofer institutes (maybe Kassel) ran a 100% renewables scenario for Germany and found you needed 2 weeks’ storage, to cope with the longest expected windless periods in midwinter, when solar is weakest. That reasonably assumed a lot of both solar and wind. Given the regularity of weather patterns in the northern hemisphere at middle latitudes, basically a procession of anticyclones from the west, the USA may have similar wind cycles. Run a simulation with 150% of peak demand in both wind and solar, and come back to us.

        • Mint

          Two weeks storage is an obscene amount. That’s 300+ hours. Even with a fantasy storage cost of $30/kWh and lifetime matching that of generators, that’s >$10000 for every kW of average power output, which is over twice the cost of the wind to generate that energy.

          • eveee

            Germany is too small an area to independently consider for variable renewables.

            Dispatchable renewables and a small amount of conventional renewables reduce the gap.

            Imports from other areas add some, too.

            Norway has enough potential storage to cover it, but would one want that to be the only option?

            Countries and states the size of Germany are not independent of neighbors in a grid connected world. What happens across EU affects all countries in that region. They have to work together or pay a price.

            It would be better to consider HVDC and areas further away before most storage.

          • Mint

            I was just addressing that comment.

            As for your suggestion, even cross-Europe integration will lead to periods of <10% CF for several consecutive days. In the end, it's unlikely that either storage or HVDC will be much of a solution to intermittency. Battery storage and reservoir hydro is going to help with daily demand peaks and/or solar surplus, but not much beyond that.

            We're gonna see natural gas or fast ramping coal (like Germany employs) fill in the gaps.

          • eveee

            I disagree with your daily peak assessment. Norwegian pumped hydro potential is greater than that amount even when site factors are accounted for. It’s that big. I will try to look it up for you and let you decide for yourself.

            I have not viewed the various papers in detail from IRENA and Ecofys for the EU region, but I recall biomass was a large part of it. The Germany only study showed power to fuel was used. Region too small, unnecessary expense.

          • eveee

            Here it is.


            I first encountered this argument of weeks of storage in a comment at Skeptical Science. Its days. I was surprised to find that Norway had so much storage.

            This paper winnows down the puHS sites. Turkey has the potential for puHS, also.

          • Mint

            I’ve seen figures of ~80 TWh for Norway’s hydro storage potential, which could probably handle a month of below average wind across the EU if fully exploited. But theoretical resource size is not really the reason I think it’s unlikely.

            Storage to handle wind outages that happen a few times per year amortizes horrendously. Norway storage would require building hundreds of GW of excess hydro capacity and transmission capacity that reaches across Europe, and most would be operating at quite low CF. Between capacity and transmission, you’re probably looking at $3+ per dispatchable watt, and that doesn’t include the cost of energy.

            In the real world, I think storage will mostly be relegated to high frequency cycling, and then flexible FF capacity will handle the rest (of course biogas can be used in NG plants too, but I think that’s limited). Having said this, I do expect H2 storage to find a role on the other end of the spectrum (used only a few hundred hours per year), because despite poor round trip efficiency, fuel cells should get down to $0.2/W.

          • eveee

            Future economics and todays economics are not the same. I said before, todays rules of thumb are wrong beyond a few years. You say storage is expensive, OK. Then something else is cheaper. Like flexible generation. Or power to methane. There is a Minnesota study right now on using renewables to enhance biofuel synthesis efficiency. They are using renewables for heat instead of burning the biofuel, for example. I am less sanguine about hydrogen storage. Not against it, just not sure if the technical problems will be overcome.

            You say it costs a lot to build new hydro storage, but what about the cost of converting existing storage to puHS? Isn’t that cheaper? And increasing generation at a hydro facility is not as expensive as building a dam. The storage is already there. Whats missing is the increase in power which involves adding generators, not dams.
            FYI, did you notice the study points to Turkey as another source of puHS? And finally, worry less about transmission costs. They are not that high. Recent studies in the US show overland HVDC at about 1.5c/kwhr for 1000 miles. The biggest thing is that its a large investment. The NREL study basically shows that investment in new transmission and generation is in line with current trends. Read.. the old stuff has to be replace anyway, so the replacement costs are similar to BAU, at least at first. Out to 2050 there are costs. But the the study really underestimates evolutionary improvements to be conservative. They only rank solar at 10% compared to wind at 40%, but the IEA just concluded differently no doubt based on the recent resurgence of PV.

            You are right about the flexible capacity. At 20% conventional can provide quite a bit of that. And some of the flexible generation is renewable.

            Lets not forget that DR, transmission expansion, and grid practices all contribute, but in ways more difficult to quantify.

            More than anything, IMO, its better not to focus on 80% renewable on a country or state by state basis. Norway and Denmark would come out 100% renewable in 2050. Germany might not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the composite over a wide region.

            Storage is worth bupkiss right now in Germany, and elsewhere. Right now, economics are saying heck, we don’t need storage.

            At low integration levels, solar actually kills the storage arbitrage market because the premium daily peak hours are reduced. That will change when there is too much variable generation. Then it will be competition between flexible fast response dispatchable sources and storage over who gets to fill in for variation. And we are not there right now.

            The future looks nothing like daytime TOU premiums and cheaper night time. Who knows. The duck curve is happening now in California and Germany. Must be happening in Australia, too. Anyplace with a lot of solar.

          • Mint

            1.5c/kWh assumes high usage. Storage to backup wind will be low usage. 1000 miles isn’t enough to transfer to all of Europe, either. A connection from Norway to Germany is only the first step of grid upgrades being able to power all of Europe in case of low wind.

            PuHS isn’t just about bigger generators, as you also need bigger/more pipes to feed them water. Fluctuating water levels wreaks havoc on nesting grounds, too, so there can be costs and limitations from that.

            I understand your point about future TOU patterns being very different from now, but it doesn’t change the fact that local NG capacity will be much cheaper than Norway PuHS capacity plus transmission.

          • eveee

            They are assuming 70% utilization. They are assuming reasonable conditions related to the application. All transmission lines are devoted to multiple sources. If the economic analysis of transmission utilization shows too little utilization, putting NG plants or storage closer to the wind farms would be considered. All of that is definitely under close scrutiny and analysis for system operators and utilities. Both Texas CREZ and transmission in MISO must undergo careful scrutiny. If you dig, you can find a lot of somewhat boring information on that kind of thing on their sites.

            As wind farms get built, you can bet utilities will use transmission lines effectively and take all that into account. There is no way they can get away with not doing it. They have PUCs and regulations driving them to lower cost.


          • eveee

            Not in Europe. NG is expensive in EU and they are trying to get rid of it.

          • Mint

            The dominant expense to back up wind is capacity cost, and NG is king in that respect.

            But even when considering fuel cost, NG is 8$/GJ there. That’s 5c/kWh fuel cost. Don’t forget that storing energy in Norway has losses from two-way transmission and cycle loss.

          • eveee

            I do agree about the NG or biogas. Its true, often generation is cheaper. Its going to be interesting to see how it works out. In one sense, storage

            With storage, the energy has to be generated first, then stored. Its going to depend a lot on negative wholesale pricing driving storage. IMO, the wind rich North Sea and peak daytime solar in Germany are driving that.

            Still, Norway has plans with several countries, each about 1G. All total they are already into near 5G in EU.

            Interesting too, that Germany really needs winter heating more than anything else.

            I read recently that Norway has very high per capita electricity use. That is in part because of cheap hydro. Thats going to change, IMO.

          • eveee

            Are you sure capacity cost I’d that high for puHS in this case? I mean it’s an addition to the reservoir which is already there. The generators, pumps, and pipes are the capital. If it’s negtive wholesale source, the fuel cost is zero.

          • eveee

            Table 4-6, p 150 shows the NG costs in EU/GJ.


            The 2010 study expected 11.51 EU/GJ in 2015. This is expected to rise.

            The 2014 EU-28 average is EU10.91/GJ. Table 9.

            Thats higher than $8/GJ, I believe.


            If natural gas continues its upward trend, it won’t be able to compete with Norwegian hydro eventually. But biogas will still be quite useful if it remains affordable.

            You are right about the grid upgrades. They will have to be substantial. The report concludes as much.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You might find this an interesting read. It’s an argument that Germany does not need additional north/south transmission. It talks about installing wind in the south and bringing in solar from Tunisia.


          • eveee

            You must be a mind reader. Too many EU studies are nation specific instead of region specific. Sure, German wind and solar will be off on so many days, but in the composite region, there are other sources. I know Desertec was toyed with for a while. If undersea cables can be built to Norways pumped hydro, they can also be built to N. African solar.

            That article is interesting in its large area perspective. It also highlights the national political differences. Cooperation is necessary.

            The papers I have read recently conclude decisively that base load is incompatible with renewables. Countries with base load resist the change.

            There was a spate of studies around 2009, 2010. NREL, Jacobson, the German ones discussed here.

            I would like to see some new ones updating the information based on today instead of the assumption used in 2010. Solar has changed dramatically since then.

            Its quite obvious now that each EU country is motivated by national goals. Every North Sea country has now taken a stake in offshore wind.

            Thats good, but they have not gone beyond 30m water depth. And the fixed foundations are expensive. Only 30% of the cost is the wind turbine for fixed foundation offshore.

            While those foundations might be used for longer than the life of the turbine, lowering costs, the capital cost could be lower and energy output higher for floating turbines. The construction costs are lower with the complete assembly onshore and towed to see by ubiquitous marine equipment. This is technology adapted from oil platforms and well developed. I say Alla Weinsteins video about the Portugal floating turbine. They had little specialized equipment and had to improvise using existing harbor equipment, yet managed to get the job done. Normal fixed offshore requires much specialized equipment for assembly in the ocean. Thats expensive construction in a hostile environment compared to building it in harbor areas.

            US is lagging in offshore partly because of the water depth issue.

            Look for floating offshore to mature more rapidly as Japan sets its vision on offshore wind.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Countries are almost certain to sell their renewable assets just as countries now sell oil, coal, natural gas and uranium.

            A country with lots of hydro is likely to purchase as much cheaper wind and solar as possible from other countries. Then sell their reserved hydro for a higher price when it would compete with stored or peaker power. Profits are in the margins.

            North African countries with lots of solar assets and huge amounts of inexpensive land are likely to get into the solar export business. UHVDC transmission lines will be the oil tankers of the new grid. They may be financed and owned by independent companies. We have a privately financed transmission line being built in the US. An electricity shipping company.

            I see less need for country to country cooperation, i.e., national governments will play a smaller role in setting up the trade routes and markets. There are huge amounts of capital looking for new markets and the new energy market is likely to attract ample investment.

            Desertec was ‘before it’s time’. But it planted a concept in the heads of many. I think we already have lots of companies looking for opportunities to produce and sell electricity and they aren’t seeing those invisible lines called “countries”. Getting the paperwork completed for more than one country will simply be part of the business cost as they figure out how to generate power in one part of the region and sell it in another.

          • eveee

            Here is an interesting take on the German integration of renewables. In contrast to California, Germany is not thinking of storage until over 40% renewables, currently envisioned as a decade away.

            Here, North South transmission is entertained. The political problems of getting over the Alps and competing with France dumping nuclear capacity on Switzerland and Italy are in the way.

            Curiously, it cites California for its demand response, while Germany uses very little demand response.

            Even more strangely, in Germany, NG is being shunned from the balancing markets, with coal plants being converted to more flexible operation. One would think that is due to two things. 1. The higher cost of NG in EU. 2. The surplus of base load thermal plants no longer needed in EU.

            Given the rapid advance of NG in US, it would be expected that NG would more often take the the role of balancing there.

            So of what was considered “base load” that is not shut down. what little is left is converted to flexible generation to survive.

            In the Midwest, coal is becoming more flexible allowing wind.

            Germany has implemented structures similar to the Energy Imbalance Market introduced on the West Coast.

            And finally, German solar inverters have been modified to improve system reliability and enhance grid stability, much like recent experience in Hawaii.


          • Mint
          • eveee

            Yes. Thanks. The conversion is $1/BTU = $947,000/GJ, so close to 1million dollar per GJ.
            The going rate listed by Bloomberg is $6.69/GJ, UK price, which is higher than the rest of EU.
            That is quite a drop off.
            The chart shows it started off at about 11, and sagged. NG has been very volatile lately, US and EU. Thats the main concern with it.

          • JonathanMaddox

            Um. North American gas prices are quoted in dollars per million BTU (MMBtu), which is only 5.4% more energy than a gigajoule. Nobody ever paid even a whole cent for a single btu worth of gas, unless it was in a diamond-encrusted bottle.


          • eveee

            The current EU price of gas is $8.27/million BTU. The conversion factor is correct, I believe. I rechecked. Note: its given here as
            $/BTU to $/GJ.
            I was converting between those two benchmarks. US tends to use BTU and the figures for EU were given in GJ.
            Its about a million dollars per GJ.
            Don’t worry, I won’t buy an BTUs for one dollar. 😉

          • eveee

            I think the main puHS idea is pumping between reservoirs, so yes the pipe diameters can restrict the flow rate. The outflow rate shoukd not b so limited.

          • eveee

            You might be interested in this. Apparently Norway and Denmark are already using an HVDC link to connect Danish wind to Norwegian hydro.

          • Mint

            I have no doubt that it’s possible for Norway to be a battery for all of Europe if cost is no object, but right now it’s just a few GW, very close to Norway, and for a grid with extremely high electricity prices.

            Regarding your other post, 70% utilization is way higher than you’d see for wind storage. Average utilization in Budischak’s paper, for example, was 5-15% of the capacity needed to meet load.

          • eveee

            This does not sound like cost is not object to me.

            “The German government’s Advisory Council on the Environment, for example, concluded in its influential 2011 report that an optimal zero-carbon power system for Germany would need more than 40 gigawatts of interconnection to Norway. That system, the council projected, would deliver power at a very affordable 6 to 7 euro cents per kilowatt-hour.”


          • Mint

            That price is not a marginal analysis of just the connection and storage. It’s for the whole system.

            The 1.4GW connection being built costs over $2.0-2.6B, and that’s just Norway to Germany. The 2011 report you speak of is here:

            I question a lot of the assumptions and data, but for now just take a look at the dispatch stacks in fig. 3-21 and 3-22 (PDF pages 108-109), particularly the charging/discharging. Average utilization of the interconnection would be far, far below 70%.

            Maybe Germans will be willing to pay a large premium for stored renewable energy in Norway over natural gas. But I don’t see the rest of Europe doing the same, especially since transmission costs will be much larger.

          • eveee

            Thanks for the link.
            My point is that EU countries are doing undersea power. Its an existence proof, though not a complete picture.
            As you say, transmission costs are not the cheapest. IMO, they can stand some underutilization with HVDC, its already cheap. Combined with negative wholesale prices, they don’t have that much to lose.

            Norway now has undersea cables to just about every country on the North Sea. And its early yet.
            Not that I don’t agree about the gas peaker, as long as its not pure NG, which is expensive and likely to only get worse. Germany is leaning quite a bit toward, bio for that.
            Perhaps thats one reason why. They don’t want to be dependent on foreign NG.
            But NG has fallen off quite a bit in Germany. My guess is, the EU countries are using as little NG peaker as they can get away with because of cost.

            Its not an either or proposition. They will use both.
            Clearly, the high wind and solar EU countries have the need/opportunity to do something about variable renewables and excess energy that is curtailed or creates negative wholesale pricing.

          • eveee

            That link is excellent. Even though its a 2010 study, its a good one. Page 154 has cost estimates. Their estimate concludes that by 2050, the cost to import stored electricity will be 2c (EU)/kwhr.

            Looking at those dispatch stacks, I come away thinking they are too extreme. There is some discussion of N. Africa solar, but the stacks are based on 100% renewables. I have to agree. Even if NG is expensive and storage is cheap, its hard to believe there would not be any other sources of fast dispatch.

            For one thing, the more a power system is composed of different sources, the more robust it is. Those curves are over reliant on puHS.

            This is the opposite of today. Its interesting. It appears that initial solar integration removes the need for storage, and later higher levels of integration increased the opportunity and need for storage and transmission expansion.

          • JonathanMaddox

            “Two weeks storage is an obscene amount.

            Not really, if it is power-to-gas storage (where the existing gas supply networks, which already store many months worth of gas consumption) or cryogenic reversible heat pump storage (which proposes to use insulated heat-and-cold storage vessels comparable to those used in storing and shipping liquid natural gas — evaporative losses are non-negligible, but they are as low as 0.1% per day).

          • Mint

            I’m not saying it’s hard to store energy for a period of two weeks. I’m saying the amount of storage is obscene. If Germany eventually produces half its power from wind, filling that in for two weeks will amount to 10 TWh.

            Heat pump storage is unproven (though I hope Isentropic can pull it off), and power-to-gas is much more expensive than just gas/coal from the ground.

          • JonathanMaddox

            Of course fossil fuels are cheaper. I don’t think any price point for stationary electric power storage is actually low enough to eliminate the competitiveness of fossil fuels where local resources and the infrastructure to exploit them already exist; for now storage is at best complementary to the existing modus operandi.

            We have to actually *choose* to stop digging up fossil fuels and burning them. Having done so, we will also have chosen to wear the costs of doing without. If we actually choose zero as our acceptable fossil fuel consumption level, and we choose intermittent renewables as the most cost-effective replacement energy source, the costs of doing without fossil fuels includes the costs of power storage on the order of tens of terawatt hours.

        • Michael G

          Without a link to the study you mention, I can’t comment on it. Why 150%? Why not 175%? What number depends on how much insufficient power you think people will put up with and for how long. Based on the seasonal wind variations currently seen in Texas, I would use 250%. Maybe Germany is more consistent.

          I hope and expect that sometime between 2050 and 2100 there will no FF plants generating base load, or emergency backup anywhere outside of hospitals and other emergency situations. So, assuming 100% renewable energy – 70% to 80% wind and PV – you have to somehow allow for the time when the wind doesn’t blow enough and the sun doesn’t shine enough to supply power for the average situation. As noted elsewhere, if you change the mix of renewables to less wind, and more biomass, than this changes in degree but then you are using biomass as energy storage. In other words, vast extra capacity, or vast storage. Extra capacity seems to me to be cheaper.

          Whether it is 3 weeks storage or 3 months storage the effect is the same. You will have more capacity than you need for long periods of time which you can either throw away, or use to generate hydrogen, or something else. Batteries wear out – better to generate hydrogen with energy that would otherwise go unused.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Or pump back into existing dams. PuHS is much more efficient than using hydrogen as storage.

            And keep your eye on Ambri’s liquid metal batteries. With an expected 300 year lifespan wearing out is not something to concern one.

            Hydrogen production from electricity continues to look to me like a solution searching for an appropriate problem. It’s inefficient and hard to store.

          • Michael G

            Everything has drawbacks. There are a *lot* of interesting storage methods. We should explore them *all*, with research and functional prototypes to see what works in many different situations.

            Cutting off research or forbidding basic protoype construction because someone THINKS they can predict the future is not the way to make progress.

            Trying to forbid research is too much like the book burning (and people burning) of the Inquisition and more recent intolerant regimes. It makes me ill – and scares me.

            The money involved is a pittance compared to the wastage in foreign wars of choice in the last few decades. Stop *that* nonsense before worrying about a few scraps going to research you personally don’t see the point in.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I said nothing about stopping research.

        • eveee

          I keep thinking why not import cheaper solar from areas south. The assumption of a 2 week lull in Germany indicates a local rather than regional view. That would necessitate less storage.

      • jeffhre

        Redundancy is now part of the grid since thermal plants also go off line. At times in a catastrophically large manner. Business as usual. When gas CC gas plant is built, there is no cost added per MWh for existing gas turbine spinning reserves:straw man?

      • JonathanMaddox

        “roughly 50% of electricity geneated is never used because it is impossible to always generate the right amount of electricity.”

        False. Generation is carefully matched to demand (including consumption due to grid losses, etc.) at all times.

        What do you think utilities would do with electricity that was “never used”? It would have to go somewhere.

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