Opinion article co-sponsored by COGEN Europe and the PACE Project, published on Euractiv.com (24 April 2023).
Article by Hans Korteweg, Managing Director, COGEN Europe
According to official EU figures, buildings are responsible for around 40% of energy consumption and 36% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. At both EU and national levels, policies and regulations are increasingly intended to phase out fossil fuels from the building sector, while boosting the uptake of renewable energy sources and efficient solutions. Moreover, energy affordability, energy system resiliency and security of supply are now more than ever at the top of the political agenda and citizens’ concerns.
Experience gained during the EU-funded PACE project shows that fuel cell micro-cogeneration (also known as fuel cell micro-CHP) could play a positive role in reducing emissions and enabling the uptake of renewables, whilst empowering consumers and providing households and businesses with electricity and heat in a way that is efficient, reliable and affordable.
Between 2016 and 2023, the PACE project has deployed and monitored more than 2500 fuel cell micro-CHP systems in buildings across 10 European countries. Results from the trial confirm that this technology is highly reliable, efficient and convenient. Moreover, data analysis, confirmed by customer feedback, shows that overall energy costs for buildings with fuel cell micro-CHP systems are significantly lower than those of other buildings.
Fuel cell micro-CHP is a proven, highly efficient and reliable energy solution that can be installed in buildings of various sizes and uses. It empowers households and businesses (especially SMEs) by enabling them to meet their own electricity and heat needs. At the heart of the system is a fuel cell, which generates electricity and heat by combining hydrogen with oxygen in a clean process that minimises local air pollution. Indeed, fuel cells have been designated as a ‘strategic net-zero technology’ by the European Commission.
Europe has a strong manufacturing base for fuel cell micro-CHP, thanks to more than €200 million of private investments by EU industry. This manufacturing capacity was significantly expanded during the lifetime of the PACE project, which has also provided more than 3400 technicians with training in installation and maintenance.
The results of the PACE project confirm the benefits of fuel cell micro-CHP technology:
Boosts efficiency: with an overall system efficiency of up to 95% and electrical efficiencies between 35%-60%, Fuel Cell micro-CHP can deliver significant energy savings and CO2 emission reductions compared to other technologies.
Minimises air pollution: a fuel cell can generate electricity and heat without burning any fuel. The environmental impact is therefore minimised, with zero emissions of smoke, particles (soot) or chemical pollutants such as sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Reduces CO2 emissions: fuel cells can deliver significantly lower carbon dioxide thanks to their superior efficiency. When replacing a stand-alone gas boiler, a fuel cell micro-CHP can reduce a building’s overall emissions (including both on-site and off-site emissions) by up to 50%.
Enables the energy transition: as biomethane and hydrogen become more widely available and cost-effective, fuel cell micro-CHP will ensure the most efficient use of these renewable gases, whilst also complementing the wider deployment of wind turbines and solar panels.
Enhances system resilience: in the context of an increasingly decentralized energy system, fuel cell micro-CHP complements intermittent renewables such as wind and solar (PV) and provides a reliable supply of locally produced electricity that can support the deployment of heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Empowers consumers: Fuel cell micro-CHP transforms Europeans into active energy ‘prosumers’ (producer-consumers), contributing to a decentralised energy system with a reduced carbon footprint and lower energy bills. An analysis of energy bills in 3 different EU countries found cost savings for consumers in the range between 30% and 80%.
Supports skilled jobs: The development, design and manufacture of Fuel Cell micro-CHP systems and their components provides an important source of high-quality jobs and contributes to Europe’s economic prosperity. The deployment of this technology also supports jobs across the whole supply chain, including installation and maintenance.
As Europe makes progress along the road towards a more decentralised and carbon-neutral energy system, policymakers and the broader energy community must fully acknowledge the positive role that fuel cells can play. Specifically, fuel cell micro-CHP can ensure that renewable gases like biomethane and clean hydrogen are used in the most efficient way, delivering electricity and heat where it is required. They can support the deployment of clean technologies like heat pumps and electric vehicles, whilst complementing intermittent renewables such as solar (PV) and wind.
The PACE project has brought together a number of leading European manufacturers (BDR Thermea Group, BOSCH, SolydEra, Sunfire & Viessmann) alongside researchers from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Element Energy and the Institute for Innovation and Technology Management at HSLU in Switzerland. The project has been coordinated by COGEN Europe and co-funded by the EU’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership.
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