The National Grid released its Future Energy Scenarios this month, a publication which aims to encourage and inform debate, leading to changes that ensure a secure, sustainable and affordable energy future. Included in this document was a consideration of emerging technologies and an assessment of their potential impact and the commercial readiness. National Grid’s assessment was that fuel cells can support energy objectives based on minimal impact on business models and supply patterns but that they would not be going to market for another 10-20 years.
The Future Energy Scenarios paper is correct that fuel cells offer the UK an opportunity to decarbonise without fundamental changes to business models or consumer behaviour, however, it underestimates their commercial readiness. Fuel cells are available on the UK market today both for stationary power and vehicle applications. Honda, Hyundai and Toyota have fuel cell vehicles on the UK market today and companies like Doosan Babcock are beginning to deploy stationary fuel cells. Although deployment in the UK is in early stages, the widescale deployment and ambition of other nations such as Japan (who alone have already deployed over 200,000 fuel cells), China and South Korea is bringing down costs and will allow the UK to scale up deployment if the right circumstances are in place.
In addition, there are several niches where fuel cells offer the most viable pathway to decarbonisation. For example, heavy goods vehicles and double decker buses are unsuitable applications for batteries because of their low efficiencies in larger, longer range vehicles, fuel cells on the other hand perform well in these scenarios. Fuel cell CHP also perform well in urban areas where air quality is a consideration because unlike other CHP technologies they do not emit any NOx, SOx or particulates. Fortunately, the UK is not going to have to wait 10-20 years to deploy these technologies as they are on the market today.