Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Fuel Cell Power

  1.  Fuel cells could replace central power stations and enable the heat produced when electricity is generated to be utilised. Fuel cells are efficient, clean and quiet in operation and if used in conjunction with renewable energy, no global warming gases are emitted.

  2.  The aim of Fuel Cell Power is to implement the introduction of lower cost fuel cell systems to provide CHP or to enable the storage of intermittent renewable energy supplies. The introduction of fuel cells will enhance markets for small scale renewable energy technologies. Intermittent supplies of electricity from wind or solar power can be stored as hydrogen for use when required.


  3.  Present nuclear capacity of 12GW is expected to reduce to 6GW by 2010 and 1GW by 2020. It would be possible for coal to continue to provide substantial back up.


  4.  There is little information about the costs of generating electricity from renewable energy sources which are not grid connected. Fuel Cell Power has in the past sought Government support for evaluations of renewable energy and hydrogen fuel cell systems, but there was no interest. Small generators may be discouraged by the low price paid if they sell electricity to the grid and there is not a guaranteed market under the terms of the Renewable Obligation.

  5.  A fundamental re-appraisal of our built environment and energy infrastructures is needed. Renewable energy should be used in well designed buildings where it will not be wasted. With the advent of LED lighting, new batteries and fuel cells, markets are opening up for micro wind turbines producing relatively small quantities of electricity. Micro wind turbines range from 200W systems with battery storage to 3 kW units. They could be the forerunner of a changing electricity infrastructure, encouraging a new perception of energy, from the throwaway attitude to one of conservation.

  6.  A low cost non-grid connected system could include LED lamps with small battery or fuel cell storage, which would be activated by movement or by a zapper. It would power computers, TV, possibly fridges and emergency controls for central heating in the event of grid failure. There would be export potential in developing countries which do not have their own electricity infrastructure. As fuel cell technologies are commercialised and costs come down, micro wind turbines, combined with solar energy, will be suitable for powering all electrical household appliances.

  7.  Micro wind turbines are being designed to utilise wind from any direction at speeds as low as 3 mph. Once volume production is achieved, a system producing about 1,000 kWh per annum would cost approximately £800 including installation. Life time is estimated to be at least ten years. Larger 2 kW units under development which would produce on average 5,000 kWh per annum would cost about £4,000. It is estimated that 10 million units could be installed at suitable UK properties, providing at least 10,000 GWh or about a third of the renewable electricity objective of 35,000 GWH by 2010. An additional 30% electricity may be generated from these systems with an innovation yet to be patented.

  8.  Solar thermal and photovoltaic panels could contribute to heat and power requirements in buildings. Costs will come down in volume production and new technologies such as the Tandem Cell developed by UK based Hydrogen Solar Ltd and the Dye Solar Cell are projected to be more cost effective. In Germany the commercialisation of photovoltaic panels is encouraged with a subsidy of over


  9.  Many other technologies will contribute to our energy needs. Low head hydro is unexploited and ground source heat pumps can provide constant background warmth. Energy crops, forestry and farm residues, waste food and sewage can provide biofuels or hydrogen for fuel cells. The Grünhaus, which is planning a new centre in Liverpool, has a database covering many energy efficiency and renewable technologies which could be developed to meet our energy demands.


  10.  In view of the run down of British engineering industries in recent decades, the Government should treat it as priority to help bridge the large gap between the funding of R & D and the commercialisation of new energy technologies. Most innovators are held back by lack of funding and there is little incentive for financiers to invest in energy saving.

  11.  Even if an innovative energy company achieves sufficient funding to bring its product to market, Government funding programmes, such as the RO and the EU Climate Trading Scheme, are only applicable to CHP units which are grid connected. The public does not have a choice, but according to the National Audit Office, will have to pay about £1 billion per annum by 2010 in order to get 10% of UK electricity from renewables, mainly from large scale wind farms.


  12.  Micro CHP systems are generally at least twice as efficient as conventional systems as they produce both electricity and heat from the same quantity of fuel which at present is used to generate only electricity. It is uneconomic to transport the vast quantities of heat produced when electricity is generated in large central power stations but it is estimated that it would be sufficient to heat every building in the country. The primary energy efficiency of a CHP unit is about 85% compared with only 35% for the UK's electricity grid.

  13.  Fuel cells can be designed to provide both electricity and heat or to generate electricity up to 70% efficiency in conjunction with other systems such as heat pumps or solar thermal panels. Heat pumps operate at an efficiency of about 300%, producing three times the heat from a given electrical input. Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used with solar PV and micro wind turbines to provide electricity and heat when there is no wind or solar power available.


  14.  Hydrogen fuel cell systems can provide grid back up for large scale wind and marine energy farms. Studies in the USA have shown that in the longer term, when cars are powered by hydrogen fuel cells, during the 95% of the time that they are parked, they could generate all the nation's electricity ten times over. This could provide a massive energy supply and reserve capacity in 10 to 20 years time.


  15.  Financiers generally require a lead from Government but in the UK they have had no encouragement to fund the development of fuel cells powered by renewable energy. Major Government funding of central electricity generating stations would continue to discourage financiers of local renewable energy infrastructures. However, if sufficient finance is made available to establish micro CHP units powered by renewable energy, this will considerably reduce the need for large scale capital investment in the national grid.


  16.  Efficiency measures, combined with local CHP generation using indigenous energy sources, would ensure that the UK is not so vulnerable to terrorist attack or global price rises or shortages. There would be no addition to the volume of nuclear waste which must be disposed of and, if renewable energy were used in the production, transport and operation of fuel cells, there would be no further anthropogenic emissions of global warming gases.

  17.  In view of scientific evidence given at this month's meeting of the British Association indicating that reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to meet the UK's Kyoto target in 2010 will probably be offset by CO2 emissions from the warming soil, the implementation of efficient, non carbon energy technologies is essential. The UK's 2010 target for CO2 emissions reduction should be at least doubled to take into account the additional emissions from our soil and the 2050 target for 60% reduction brought forward. We should take a leading role in the implementation of new technologies in developing countries so that they can also meet stringent targets under the principles of Contraction and Convergence. The Government should tell the nation what is happening and take a lead in effective action to change from burning fossil fuels.

21 September 2005

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