Fuel Cell/General 040816

Fuel Cell/General

This is an excellent summary of the recent, present and future expected conditions of both photovoltaics and fuel cells in power markets.  It is rich in data such as noting the increase in worldwide solar production in 2003 at 760 MW, up from 550 MW in 2002. Present rates show that PV production is doubling every two years. Fuel cell R & D funding has been very weak with U.S. private sector investments falling from $1.1 billion in 2000 to less than $550 million in 2002. Venture capital funding has  averaged less than $17.6 million per year for the last six years. A projection for PV shows  150,000 new U.S jobs by 2020 and new U.S. fuel cell jobs in the range of 119,000-188,000 by 2021. Neither number allows for the ongoing draining of jobs to offshore industries.

(Ed. note: The picture presented in this story may have limitations because of traditional linear thinking which has underwhelmed so many anticipated improvements, not the least of which is battery energy density growth, travel to Mars and genetic engineering marvels. In the story, starting with a present number of $3 dollars/kWh for PV today, and with a 50 percent additional charge for  balance of plant (BOP), the suggestion is made that with a 50 % drop in PV cost in a decade, the module cost would drop by 50 percent. But the exercise linearly extends the drop in BOP by 50 percent without any justification for that reduction.  This may be a fatal flaw in projecting future costs in that there is nothing  to suggest that the cost of support framework, wiring  for electrical conversion,  installation and maintenance labor costs, real estate costs and/or tax structure will be reduced to match the reduction in PV costs.  Taking a lesson from the computer industry, we see that over the last 15 years, the price of a notebook computer has remained between $1000 and  $4000.  Despite the hoopla of more features, cheaper has not been one of the contributions.  The futurist should really hope that implementation of fuel cells and PV will come about because of disruptive technologies such as occurred with compact discs and laproscopic surgery.  Unfortunately, disruptive technology contributions usually provide the buffer to keep total costs comparable to alternatives as can be seen by the ever spiralling of health costs despite new technological contribution.  One thing which is very likely to support the acceptance of PV, the hydrogen economy and fuel cells is the fact that as oil supplies dwindle, the cost  of petroleum and gas will take an ever larger percentage of each individualís total spending power. At a cost crossover point, PV, other renewables and a hydrogen-based economy which could utilize fuel cells will have an opportunity to become competitive. Another of the storyís projection shows how many new jobs will be created with the new economy without considering the jobs lost in closing out the old economies or how many of these jobs will be shipped to foreign countries as we are now experiencing with Chinese manufacturing and Indian software and phone service.)

Electronic Design, June 14, 2004 pp. 83 - 84
(Feb, 01)The Fuel Cell: is it ready?