Fuel cells

The sun and its solar flares. Image © SOHO

I saw a small item The Australian’s business section last week that gee’d me up summat smartish, like.

Headed ‘Home power plants loom’, it told of an Aussie company called Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd and their plan to begin sales of their product BlueGen, a dishwasher sized fuel cell box that generates 17KW of electricity when fed with a supply of natural gas. That’s the same gas that runs your stove top and heater, etc.The BlueGen domestic fuel cell

Now considering that WA has ginormous, humungous reserves of natural gas, and that our household electricity bills are definitely going to nearly double in the next three years, probably to about $2,000 a year for the average household, this stopped me in my tracks. I’d been thinking that it was going to become economical to use solar power or something in order to become free of dependence on mains power.

I got onto CFCL’s web site http://www.cfcl.com.au/BlueGen/ to find out more. It turns out that CFCL is a spinoff of the CSIRO, which inspires confidence for me, and has a solid management and board.

They’ve developed a method of generating electricity from a wide range of fuels, not just natural gas but LPG, methane, biogas, and others I can’t remember.

The cost of the device is around $8,000 according to the article, but if you were paying $1,000 a year for your electricity now, and probably more in the future, it will pay for itself in a bit over 8 years.

What you’re effectively doing is paying for your power for 8 years in advance. Once you have one of these devices, you’ll never have another electricity bill. You’ll still have to pay for the gas, of course, but I suspect it will be a lot cheaper than electricity.

The advantages would be:

  1. Independence from the power grid. No more power outages! That matters to me, because I get hour long power failures, or longer, several times a year.
  2. You can sell the excess power back to Synergy. 17KW is a lot for a home, so you’ll have excess power to sell.
  3. Once it’s amortised, much lower power costs. Run your aircon as much as you need with no environmental guilt.
  4. It’s a relatively small device with no moving parts and little maintenance needed (maybe none except routine safety checks?). No pollution, either.

There are others, but you get the drift.

In the past few days I’ve heard from two people who track their electricity costs. One household pays about $4.25 per day, or $1,551 pa, and the other pays about $7.50 per day or $2.737 pa! At those rates, the unit would repay itself over 5.15 years and 2.9 years respectively, not counting the cost of the gas used.

Consider that the price of electricity is due to rise by 30% from next month, then another 30% in 2010/11, and another 15% in 2011/12. That’s a compound increase in electricity cost of 94.35% in the next three years! That’s massive and it’s going to happen to us all. If you’re paying $300 a quarter for your power now, you’ll be paying around $600 a quarter in three years’ time.

I reckon this unit would pay for itself in about 2 years for most people! Provided the cost of gas doesn’t rise as much, of course.

The company has set up subsidiaries in Britain and Germany and is aiming for these markets first, and Japan. They plan to start sales in Australia in October, I think.

I’d definitely consider buying one. Cheers, Pete