Breakthrough for electricity and heat generation from fuel cells imminent

WINGAS and utility companies develop market strategies

Kassel. The development of gas-powered fuel cells for generating heat and electricity in small industrial businesses and households has made considerable progress in recent years. The technology is gaining ground, not just thanks to its high energy yields and reliability; it is also on the verge of conquering the market as an alternative to conventional heat generators owing to the rising energy prices. Fuel cells, as CHP-based systems (combined heat and power), generate electricity as well as heat, and the electricity can either be fed into the grid or be consumed by the small business or household.


For two years now, WINGAS has been supporting selected utility customers with incentive programs to carry out pilot projects that aim to introduce fuel cell technology to the mass market. In so doing, together with its partners, WINGAS is concentrating its efforts on energy saving and emissions reductions. In the summer of 2014 the first meeting was held to review the initiative.  The utility companies reported positively on their experiences so far, and praised the smooth operation and very favorable energy balance of this robust technology.


Development of alternative sectors

The development of future market strategies for mini CHP units with fuel cell technology was the focus of a workshop which took place at WINGAS in Kassel upon the initiative of the project partners. Together with the participants, WINGAS defined the most promising target groups for this technology and drew up possible messages for addressing consumers. The conclusion they came to was that in order to market this technology, utility companies needed to focus on emotional communication, which also underlines the concrete benefits for potential customers. This was a valuable finding for the project partners because some manufacturers of fuel cells have already reached the stage of making products that are ready for the mass market.


Fuel cell technology could also become increasingly important in light of the possible impact of the EU efficiency directive, which will shortly be transposed in Germany. As a result of this directive, utility companies could be obliged to implement certain energy saving measures that would be detrimental to their core business – supplying energy to end users. Hence, it is important that utility companies develop new fields of business early so that they can remain competitive long-term. Improving energy efficiency in the heating segment plays a key role owing to the German government’s climate targets, which aim to reduce CO2 emissions nationwide by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990. The contracting of highly efficient CHP plants is a way for utilities to position themselves more widely, but also to reserve their place on a promising future market now.


Strong need to cooperate

“Our customers are very interested in establishing fuel cell technology on the market. They want to be pioneers of this technology and also help it to spread. They are looking for ways to develop new sales strategies in collaboration with us. We are very pleased about this because we can only support the German federal government in its commitment to climate protection and develop new future-oriented business models at the same time if we work together,” explains Detlef Mirsch, Head of Technical Services at WINGAS. The consistently positive feedback of the utilities taking part in the project shows that possibilities for cooperating in energy-efficient technologies are in demand. Hence, in future there will be a regular exchange with our project partners to discuss our experiences and the potential of fuel cells. 

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