Germany-based international heating manufacturer Viessmann has unveiled its new fuel cell, and it’s a marked improvement on all fronts. Both heat and electricity are generated with the Vitovalor PT2, and the advanced technology employed will yield up to a 40% reduction in energy costs with the effect of reducing emissions.
This and other fuel cells for heat and electricity work by converting the chemical energy of a fuel (in this case natural gas) and combining it with an oxidant (air or oxygen) to produce electricity. It is similar to the way in which a battery operates, but the cell will continue to produce electricity as long as fuel and an oxidizer are supplied, unlike a battery which requires recharging. Being able to use the heat generated as well as the electricity is a real advantage for fuel cell systems in certain applications. How much of an advantage is very much of a debate, and we don’t currently have the numbers on this issue.
The Vitovalor system uses a Panasonic fuel cell module in the unit. To date, Panasonic has sold around 100,000 residential fuel cell systems in Japan, which accounts for half of the total residential fuel cell system sales. In this sense they are very much tried and tested. The second largest seller, Toshiba, has exited the market and is no longer making or selling residential fuel cell units. The partnership between Viessmann and Panasonic started with sales of fuel cell heaters in Germany in 2014, and was the first overseas market to be tested. Since then the number of territories in which the units are sold has expanded.
The new unit is aimed primarily at the residential family market and is ideally suited to homes with one or two families. 30.8kW of heat can be generated by the fuel cell, which is more than adequate for the needs of an average family home in western Europe. In addition to this heat, 18kWh of electricity can be produced, which covers 90% of a 2-person household consumption. Remember that those households are usually on the electricity grid.
Generating power in this way can also be more cost-effective as it is cheaper than buying electricity from a provider and isn’t subject to the price fluctuations, according to the company. Viessmann estimates that the increased efficiency of the unit can bring a savings of €700 per year on energy bills. Viessmann has paid particular attention to the design of the unit. It has a footprint of 0.72 square meters, and has been made with new buildings or renovations in mind.
Longevity, Reliability and Efficiency
Longevity and reliability are also key aspects that Viessmann is pushing with the Vitovalor. It is being mooted as being good for 80,000 hours of use and only requires servicing every five years. This is good news as more traditional heating such as oil-fired boilers tend to need servicing much more frequently.
The fuel cell is integrated with the latest in smart energy management technology. This has the capability to adapt to your energy usage habits, learning when it is best to utilize the use of hydrogen and natural gas in the heating system, further maximizing the efficiency.
In keeping with the future-focused nature of the Vitovalor, it comes equipped with a WLAN interface, meaning the unit can be controlled via a smartphone or tablet. It can also be controlled via a 7” color touch display if this is preferable. We’re not too sure what other uses the WLAN may have, but we reached out to the company to see if they might have taken inspiration from Tesla’s technique of planning for ‘software updates’.
To further increase the effectiveness of the fuel cell and to truly maximize efficiency, it can be used in combination with the Vitocharge power storage system. In this way, any excess power produced can be stored in the batteries to be used when needed.
Viessmann believes that there could be as much as a 50% improvement in this technology in the coming years, leading to bigger savings and a better price point. The main territories for the updated Vitovalor will be Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, and the UK, with sales expected to reach 5,000 units in the first year. There are no plans to take the units to China and the US at present, but these may be key growth markets for the product as well as Canada, being to the north and having 63% of the energy consumption in the home for heating the space.
We’re not sure of the final price point the unit will be sold at, but there are multiple schemes in the target markets that heavily subsidize fuel cells. For example, in Germany up to €11,000 is available in subsidies to switch to a fuel cell. What’s interesting to note is that competitors such as Bosch and Vaillant have discontinued their fuel cells, so we’re reaching out to see if there are any plans to re-introduce these product lines.
And as usual, we’re very interested in any comments from readers on the feasibility of this technology, and what else we should be excited about in this sector that carries a considerable carbon footprint.