For years the nuclear industry has suggested that if only the consumer were better educated then the purported benefits of nuclear would then become obvious and public opposition to new reactors would evaporate.
Worryingly, this claim is now beginning to be raised within the fuel cell sector. At a recent industry event in Brussels, the fuel cell program director of BMW claimed that the industry needs more public education on the benefits of the technology. This claim was mirrored a number of times during the day – in essence, reflecting the blame away from an industry that in Europe is significantly underperforming onto its potential customers. Interestingly, of the panel of high-level European bureaucrats, each espousing of the need for the industry to step up, only one of them had actually bought a fuel cell.
Buy, Play, Break, Improve
To be sure, the consumer is a real area of concern. Not in terms of needing better education, but in terms of needing more product that is available to buy. Intelligent Energy, which recently announced the release of the Upp portable fuel cell charger, claims that the unit will not be available in the Europe until sometime in 2014. This was after it was shown to millions of potential adopters via a television slot on the BBC. There is, in fact, no commercial fuel cell product widely available across the EU28. FuelCell Energy, an import from North America, is making large strides to being available but is not there yet. The Horizon fuel cell recharger can be ordered from their website for most countries – but not all – and there is a long way to go before any type of residential or light commercial system is broadly available.
The theory is that if customers understand the benefits of fuel cells but have nowhere to actually go and buy the product, this will create a large pent-up demand. But, as I have written before, the product buying cycle cannot be shortcut. By not getting the products in the hand of early adopters, the industry is pushing out its entry into the the mass market even further. Education and product availability go hand-in-hand. Buy, play, show, tell, and yes, break, is all part of this. Show and tell – and shifting responsibility to the customer – is simply not enough.