The Fuel Cell-Powered Home: An Approaching Reality?

By February 20, 2019

February 20, 2019

Alternative fuels have gained traction over the past few years as individuals become more concerned with the source from which the energy powering their homes comes. While much of the focus has been on technologies such as solar, wind and geothermal, there are more questions now about ways to keep homes powered even when services are disrupted.

Over the past decade, a number of companies have proposed home fuel cells, but have ultimately wound up working with industrial or tech companies instead. However, new interest in home fuel storage has reignited efforts to make home fuel cells a reality.

Why use fuel cells?

As more and more homeowners become interested in green and sustainable power, technologies like wind and solar gain more and more traction. However, while each of these address generation of power, they do not directly address how to store it. The answer to that question may be surprising: hydrogen fuel cells. Long used in industrial settings and automobiles, this is a technology that may finally be ready for individual homes, as well. Fuel cells can generate hydrogen from either electrical grid power or from other power sources like solar panels or wind generators. Using stored power can reduce the load on the power grid at peak times. It can store seasonally plentiful energy for times when energy is less abundant. It can also provide power security in the face of storms or other events that cause disruptions to power supplies.

Commercial fuel cells emerging

Fuel cells have had mostly industrial applications. However, more companies are moving into the consumer sector and offering fuel cells for homes. For instance, German manufacturer Home Power Solutions recently rolled out a micro cell option for homes. The cells create hydrogen from solar energy collected in the summer. Then, during darker winter months, the stored fuel is used to heat the home as well as provide power for lighting and other applications.

Can individuals DIY fuel cells?

Until recently, no manufacturer was making a fuel cell system specifically for the home. Because of this, a DIY option was the only answer for those who wanted fuel cell technology. However, the fact that these systems would have to be put together by individuals meant that they were extremely expensive to create. Estimated costs for a home fuel cell system ran from around $35,000 to $100,000 or more. A home system would involve having to source every element from hydrogen generators to storage tanks.

Making fuel cells affordable

As more manufacturers join the fuel cell industry, this scale will help lower costs across the board. In the meantime, people who install fuel cells in their homes can take advantage of the energy credit on their taxes. While the Energy Incentives for Individuals in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act initially expired in 2016, this credit was renewed in early 2018. The tax credit will be available until 2021. Tax incentives for builders have been renewed as well, leading to more builders including fuel cells as a feature in new homes that they design and build. This can be a boon to people who are interested in the technology, but are not interested in retrofitting a home on their own.

The desire for greater energy independence, as well as a way to make the most of green and sustainable energy will only increase the demand for technology like fuel cells. While the home fuel cell movement is still in its infancy, these and other developments suggest that fuel cells may become more popular over time.

Article by and for FuelCellsWorks
Anthony Gilbert