Is cost still a barrier?
The common misconception that many people still have about hydrogen fuel cells is that the up-front expense of the fuel cell solutions and the current price of the fuel itself would appear to make them “too expensive.” However, this assumption fails to take account of the capital and operating expenditure balance, and of hydrogen fuel cell technology’s huge potential benefits in terms of flexibility, resilience and — something which is increasingly important considering recent world events — energy security. Essentially, fuel cells using green hydrogen can offer independence from other nation’s fossil fuels.
The cost outlay of procuring hydrogen fuel cell solutions cannot be shied away from. However, once acquired the technology is remarkably low maintenance. Unlike a diesel generator, a hydrogen fuel cell has no complex working parts, and simply consists of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte. This is significantly less costly; the technology works on demand and with minimal maintenance hours required.
We must also consider the myriad potential applications of hydrogen fuel cells, and how they distinguish themselves from more traditional solutions. In fixed-site applications, the capital sunk into diesel generators spends most of its time sat idle. Diesel generators are typically only called upon to provide power in the short term; they operate as back-up when things go wrong (and consume considerable quantities of carbon-emitting fuel while doing so). An example is the provision of emergency power during grid outages for critical assets such as hospitals and data centres.
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.