Just over 200 MW worth of stationary fuel cells – that’s the ones used to generate heat and power, typically for buildings, rather than those used to power vehicles or mobile devices such as laptops – will have been installed around the world by the end of this year. That’s 10% up on 2105, according to the latest annual Fuel Cell Industry Review from international sustainable energy consultancy E4tech.
200 MW – that’s a modest amount of generating capacity, and only a modest increase on last year, although the annual installation figure has more than doubled from 2011. However, for an industry labelled as yet-to-fully-mature and fragile by E4tech, the overall picture for all types of fuel cells is more positive. 2016 will be a record year for shipments of new fuel cells, largely driven by a doubling of the capacity delivered to the vehicles sector – which has this year exceeded the stationary sector for the first time.
Talking just numbers for the moment, the stationary fuel cells sector has seen 55,000 new installations in 2016, up from 47,000 year ago. The overall number is heavily influenced by just one country – Japan – where the Ene-Farm programme to support domestic fuel cell micro-CHP systems makes the country a dominant global player. Installations of such systems are approaching 50,000 a year in Japan.
Looking in terms of generating capacity, E4tech says the picture is dominated by the output of the larger system producers: FuelCell Energy and its Korean partner POSCO; Bloom Energy, Doosan Fuel Cell; and Fuji Electric. The overall trends for stationary fuel cells are: Asia’s deployment increased; US sales flattened; and Europe remains low. However, the Review suggests that continued support for fuel cells in Germany should result in more installations there next year.
E4tech stresses the continued need for support from governments if fuel cells are going to meet their potential. It also notes the new and growing importance of China. And, for stationary fuel cells, the report suggests new opportunities where devices are grouped together to form a virtual power plant, helping to bring flexibility into electricity networks struggling to accommodate volumes of intermittent renewable generation.
Fuel cell technology is yet to fully mature and the product is still expensive, but with continued development support and some proper leadership from governments, they may still take their place among important sustainable – and decentralized – energy solutions.