The problem with some markets and applications for new technologies is that they make so much sense you don’t know why they haven’t taken off as fast as they should. Sometimes it’s due to regulation (forcing or blocking) and sometimes consumer perception (real or otherwise). Other times the delay stems from a single piece of an overall system that is not yet in place. This can be hard to work out – it’s one of those questions that you don’t know you need an answer to until you need the answer. For the residential Combined Heat and Power market (resCHP) this could well have been the case.
ClearEdge Power last month may well have provided the answer, or partial answer, to the question of what is missing from the current crop of fuel cell resCHP systems: onsite storage. So when the grid goes down the resCHP stays running. Makes sense, right? In fact, most people wrongly assume that current resCHP systems stay running in a grid outage. This is not correct, as was proved after the Japanese earthquakes when the fuel cell based ENE FARM systems had to be shut off during any blackouts, planned or otherwise. The ClearEdge Power system, ClearEdge Plus, provides a system with a battery running as storage, and a fuel cell running on natural gas. When the grid goes down, the battery kicks in, preventing the fuel cell from having to be turned off. Barring some apocalyptic scenario in which both the electricity grid and the natural gas grid go down, there would be power. Like I said, makes sense!
In terms of cost the unit, without subsidy, is a lot more expensive that any form of diesel generator, or residential boiler, but at the minute it is being pitched at high end McMansions, and like any new technology the price will come down. In the medium term ClearEdge Power is unlikely to be the only company that adopts this model. I am sure it will continue to be optimized across the industry.
That will open up a new group of customers in the USA to the residential CHP market. If the United States has a Dash-to-Gas in anything like the way the United Kingdom successfully did, that will also help the roll-out of resCHP. It is really only the U.S. and Canada where homes regularly require 8-10 kilowatts of power. So maybe, in reality, energy efficiency is the final missing piece in the Smart Home market!