Fuel Cell Gensets Generate Efficiencies

Fuel cells not only bolster short term economic performance and robustness, but also bring significant long-term benefits for businesses.


It’s widely recognised that using fuel cells delivers an immediate ramp-up to meet power needs. Use can be short-term, as infill until grid capacity increases, or longer-term. However, what’s less known is that longer term use can also have significant, positive knock-on effects in terms of future-proofing, even down to reputation when it comes to how fuel cell powered businesses are viewed by financial institutions.


Using fuel cells addresses grid stability issues, meaning that economic activity can carry on unabated during outages. This has a positive, downward influence on insurance premiums, as the company’s ability to continue to deliver is guaranteed. Physical business premises themselves can also gain value intrinsically by virtue of having their own power supply and increased independence. This positively affects mortgageable value and the ability to raise business loans on more favourable terms.

This is another example of how the procurement of hydrogen fuel cells must be viewed in terms of more than just capital expenditure and ongoing fuel costs. The apparently ‘high’ premiums associated with both can be significantly offset elsewhere on the balance sheet, whilst business resilience and value can be simultaneously increased.


Fuel cells have several benefits over the conventional combustion-based technologies currently used in many power plants and vehicles. Fuel cells can operate at higher efficiencies than combustion engines and can convert the chemical energy in the fuel directly to electrical energy with efficiencies capable of exceeding 60%. They have lower or zero emissions compared to combustion engines; hydrogen fuel cells emit only water, addressing critical climate challenges as there are no carbon dioxide emissions. There are no air pollutants that create smog and cause health problems at the point of operation, and another environmental benefit it that fuel cells are quiet during operation as they have few moving parts.

By contrast, hydrogen fuel cells can be operated right across the working day. In addition to providing a carbon-free and local emissions-free solution to energy needs when grids fail, hydrogen technology can cater for peak shaving needs (that is, providing extra energy capacity for short periods of time when demand exceeds supply from grid-based sources) and be used habitually to complement conventional energy sources when hydrogen is in ready supply, such as when it is a by-product of refining processes. This provides further benefits in terms of OPEX costs and their use continually at a very low power rate can be ramped up very quickly as and when necessary.

Peak shaving 

Hydrogen fuel cells are highly suited to peak shaving applications. This involves providing extra energy capacity for short periods of time when demand exceeds supply from grid-based sources. With hydrogen fuel cells, provision can be highly localised at multiple locations on an as-and-when basis. The cells can therefore provide significant additional resilience to existing grid networks or enable grids to continue to work at a given, lower capacity for longer.

Viewed as a part of the wider power ecosystem, fuel cells therefore represent a cost saving, as the additional investment needed to increase grid capacities to cater for relatively short periods of need can be offset.

Storing and saving 

Another advantage of fuel cells is that they can effectively act as an emissions-free fuel ‘bunker’. This applies particularly in the case of green hydrogen (hydrogen that is produced using power from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydro-electric, as distinct from blue hydrogen which is a by-product of natural gas refinement).

By maximising the use of renewables — for instance solar, especially during the summer months — hydrogen can be produced and stored for use later. This has advantages over battery electric, in that batteries lose charge over time and offer only relatively short-term capacity. Hydrogen fuel cells continue to produce energy if they are provided with fuel, and if that fuel can be manufactured in an emissions-free fashion then a virtuous energy cycle is established.

This also has the effect of offsetting higher energy costs during periods of higher demand, such as during the winter months.

Far from being an overly expensive option, therefore, hydrogen fuel cells can make an appreciable contribution to smarter power generation. They can make significant and welcome differences to both the health of the energy ecosystem and the bottom line in the short, medium and long-term.