Barring another natural disaster striking the East Coast of the United States, my colleague Lisa Jerram and I will be attending this year’s Fuel Cell Seminar in October, in Columbus, Ohio. Each year the industry convenes to share updates on progress made in the last year and argue amongst ourselves about what steps should be taken next. The good news this year is that the industry has broken the $1 billion annual revenue mark, and shipments are up. The bad news is that costs are still too high, lead times for orders still too long, and so on.
Some of the technical tracks this year should be quite interesting. The track on “Solid Oxide Fuel Cell – Recent Developments” has some beguiling presentations in it, including one with “subsidy free” in the header. That should certainly gain some attention! One track I know I’ll attend is on unmanned vehicles (UVs) – not because of the military focus but because of the increasing use of UVs in the civilian sector, in areas such as wildlife monitoring. This niche has the potential to make some serious gains in the next 5 years, as money is invested in upgrading many monitoring services in various applications.
The Global View
Unfortunately, though, some of the more market-based tracks are full of backward-looking analysis. Unpacking and unpicking economic decision-making tools is not useful when customers have already started bypassing capital investment adoption models in favor of power purchase agreements. Debating the minutia of hypothetical modeling exercises is futile at best and a waste of money at worst.
With this year’s seminar in Ohio, the heartland of the Fuel Cell Corridor, there will be many opportunities to hear from the people on the front lines. Companies like Catacel and Nextech rarely make global headlines, but they are critical to the development of a robust and healthy supply chain. One emerging company I look forward to meeting with is WATT Fuel Cell, which is developing a portable solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC). With the global focus on SOFCs increasing, it will be good to talk to WATT FC on their proposed time to market – that’s important since our recent Fuel Cells Annual Report 2013 forecasts this market to grow at double-digit pace for the next decade at least.
One other comment is that the seminar is too focused on the U.S. market. The theme of the conference is “Fuel Cells and Natural Gas: Securing America’s Energy Future.” This is an international conference for a global industry, with many attendees and speakers arriving from non-U.S. countries. I’d love to see the organizers focus more broadly on the challenges facing the industry, such as developing a global supply chain, promoting robust job growth, and developing better training and job prospects, rather than taking a narrow, U.S.-centric point of view that is sure to drive a wedge into the sector.