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Tokyo Gas and Panasonic launch new, smaller, lower-cost Ene-Farm home fuel cell co-generation system

21 January 2013

Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. and Panasonic Corporation have jointly developed a new smaller, lower-cost version of the Ene-Farm home fuel cell co-generation system. Panasonic manufactures the fuel cell unit and supplies it to Tokyo Gas in combination with a hot water unit and backup heat source produced by Gastar Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Tokyo Gas. (Ene-Farm is a Japanese marketing brand used by several major gas companies and fuel cell manufacturers for home co-generation units. Earlier post.)

The new model will be sold by Tokyo Gas from 1 April 2013, priced at ¥1,995,000 (US$22,344) (with the standard backup heat source; including tax; excluding installation fee). This is about ¥760,000 (US$8,512) less than the recommended retail price of the Ene-Farm model currently on the market, made possible by a reduction in the number of components.

Compared to conventional method of using electricity from thermal power plant and hot water supply using city gas, the fuel cell system allows primary energy consumption to be reduced by approximately 37% and CO2 emissions by approximately 49%. Users can cut around ¥60,000 (US$672) from annual utility bills, and CO2 emissions by approximately 1.3 tons a year.

Through system simplification, the new product contains about 20% fewer components than the previous model. Materials were revised for the electricity-generating stacks, a key device, and for the fuel processor, which produces hydrogen from city gas, while the size of hot water storage tank was also reduced.

The new product also achieved an overall efficiency of 95.0% (LHV)—the world’s highest. It is the first time that the recommended retail price of an Ene-Farm product in Japan has been less than ¥2 million.

With improved durability of the electrolyte membrane, which forms the core of electrical generation, the new product can operate for 60,000 hours, or 20% longer than the previous model. Also, by reducing the lower limit of the power output from 250 watts to 200 watts, it is even more suitable for customers with minimal power needs.

Due to a reduction in the size of the equipment, the required installation depth has been decreased from 900 mm to 750 mm. Since the backup heat source has also been separated from the hot water unit, the product can now be even more easily installed in a wider variety of places.

The new product will be available to the general public in three models.

Since the first Ene-Farm products were put on general sale in May 2009, Panasonic has now shipped a total of approx. 21,000 units throughout Japan as of the end of December 2012, of which approx. 15,000 have been sold by Tokyo Gas. For FY2013, Panasonic will complete a production setup to enable an annual production capacity 50% greater than its current annual production forecast to more than 15,000 units, while Tokyo Gas will aim for annual sales of 7,100 units—70% more than the FY2012 sales target of 12,000 units.

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200W and $22k.. is this a misprint?

$22344 divided by $672 (annual savings) = 33 years for payback & time required to start realizing true savings.

This is very much an intermediate technology, and Panasonic and everyone else realise that costs have to come down for full commercialisation:

'The cost must be reduced for full-fledged distribution of the system. We plan to focus our development efforts towards achieving a market price of 600,000 yen. We will need to develop unique technologies, such as system simplification, etc., to unify the basic specifications and component standardization in the industry; and also reduce the cost by means of economies of scale. We plan to positively promote the blending of technical
capabilities by collaboration with two or more national projects.'

http://juwel.fz-juelich.de:8080/dspace/bitstream/2128/4236/1/ST2_7_korr1_Kusumura.pdf

We are talking of a 2016 kind of time frame for this reduction, with prices of around half that in a few more years.

Pay back time of 8 years would be more than acceptable in many countries. That would require a unit price of about $5,500 or so unless the cost of other energy sources goes up.

This type of unit would be more beneficial in USA (even at $15K to $20K per house) where NG/SG is much (4 to 5 times) cheaper? It could be one of the potential solution for USA's future alternate distributed e-energy sources, specially when electrified vehicles fleet grow well over 20,000,000 units?

One of my friends has one of the older systems and he saved 250 a month but then he was a heavy user of power.

As for 200 w thats not its max power thats its min power output.

The economics of home fuel cells are better in some places in Europe, although gas prices are higher than in the US.
Electricity demand in most European houses is less than in the US, and importantly in some countries which are going for a lot of renewables electricity costs a fortune.

In Germany it is around $0.30kwh, so producing your own from natural gas makes sense.

Since it generates electricity and provides hot water, you'll need to subtract the cost of a traditional water heater before calculating the payback. Natural gas water heater is like $500, nonetheless.

It looks like the last gen unit has max output of 1kW.

http://www.tokyo-gas.co.jp/tgminutes/64.pdf

usb:
That was the generation before last.
They are turning out a new one every two years.
The 2011 model had a power range of 250-750Watts, and the current 2013 one 200-750Watts:
http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2013/january/tokyo-gas-and-panasonic-launch-smaller,-more-efficient-and-cheaper-ene-farm-residential-fuel-cell

That does not include the heat output, which is greater than the electrical output.

Included in that is the energy cost of reforming the natural gas, which accounts for why you can get 60% efficiency from a PEM using the already reformed hydrogen in a car.

"Also, by reducing the lower limit of the power output from 250 watts to 200 watts.."

200 watt LOWER limit

My first 19"-LCD display cost $1,400 and my first DVD player cost over $1,000, now you can get them for under $100. I would predict that in a decade or less, these home co-gen FC will cost under $2,000 when they will be produced by millions of units yearly. NG and utility electricity are not going to cost any less and likely will cost more, so this is likely the trend of the future. This will give incentive for upgrading the current NG piping due for replacement to be H2-compatible, and in a few decade, we will be on a good path toward storing excess renewable energy and nuclear electricity, and hence maximum utilization of zero-carbon
energy. This is a good start for it all!

Roger:
Here is the outline of cost reduction they are working to:

'A recent Imperial College London studyiv has stated that a cost price far below €3,000/kWe is not realistic in the near-term; €3,000/kWe could be expected after one million installations. At an initial manufacturing run of 10,000–20,000 units per supplier, a cost price of around €6,500/kWe could be expected. De Jong anticipates that the market (after subsidies) for fuel cell CHP at €6,500/kWe in the EU is around one million units, enough to realise the €3,000/kWe aim. Overcoming the initial ramp-up period would require approximately €15 million per supplier, however.'

http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/media/1751320/eu_prospects_fuel_cell_chp.pdf

To focus on Panasonic, although there are plenty of other companies, in this generation they are probably trying to prepare the ground for a 2015-ish introduction of units for around the Euros 6,500/kwe for the next stage - that is my guess on the time-frame, nothing official.

Although especially from Kyocera there are also SOFCs for home use, the drive to make PEMs for homes means, in my view, that those who see a battery only future for advanced transport are likely to be mistaken, as success in the home reduces costs for use in vehicles.

Id expect the next gen will be a tweaked version of this unit likely gaining most cost reductions simply by increased volume production... My guess about 1.7 mil yen give or take 100k.

After that in 2017-2018 I expect anouther shift like this gens with both anouther increase in production rate AND a solid cost reduced design... so id expect going from 1.6 m yen down to about 1.2.

So by 2025 id expect we will be in the 5-600k yen range. And by 2040 id expect this to be almost everywhere nat gas is used and nat gas is still even just fairly cheaper then retail power.

In general those units are for backup power. As base load they are not making any sence since they have only 60 000 operation hours or max 7 years continuous operation. As backup units for very important locations (hospitals) they are perfect.
Such distributed power generation would not replace need of power grid and final power cost would be increasing.

@wintermane:
The volumes they reckon they need for production at 6,500 Euros cost, of 10-20k per supplier should be reachable by 2015, so your conservative take does not seem to be founded on any figures we have.

@darius:
diesel generators don't last forever either.
What figures are you using for comparison to show that fuel cell can't be grid competitive?

Um 60k life is NOT 60k lifepan but 60k till its down 10% in output power. So after 7 ish years of continuous use it would still be belting out a max of 675 watts if it starts at 750 max...

Also yes im being rather conservative on how fast I expect they will drop prices. It might go faster but im not counting on it right now.

Hospitals and banks have been using United Technologies Molten Carbonate fuel cells for decades. They have great up time and good longevity, it is a proven application.

@darius
I'd think that the unit would only run when the electricity consumption is over 200W - the price you can sell to the grid is much lower than to buy. If this is 8hrs/day then the life span is 20 years: reasonable though likely shorter than the payback time.

You don't need expensive fuel cells to get these results.
In Germany, "swarms" of volkswagen natural gas ICU's are used as combined heat and power. Almost the same result as with fuel cells, but much cheaper. The somewhat lower electric efficiency isn't that important since the "waste heat" is used efficiently.
An ICU is much cheaper than a fuel cell and you don't need reforming to H2.

An intelligent computer system activates the thousands of distributed home-generators to optimize distributed electricity production and local heat use.

http://www.lichtblick.de/h/english_information_395.php

@Alain:
If all that there was to be told about the technologies were their current cost, then your point might have some weight.
The question is then why the Germans, Japanese and Koreans are going for fuel cells rather than ICU's

The rationale immediately becomes obvious.

1. Fuel cells already demonstrate higher reliability than generators, as shown in their superior performance to them in the recent hurricane Sandy emergency.
They started reliably when the generators didn't.

2. Associated with 1. above is their low maintenance, important when millions of them are planned to be installed in houses.

3.Fuel cells are far cleaner than combustion engines. Apart from CO2 there are none of the emissions that CU's have.

4.Higher cost is to be expected in a brand new technology.
That does not mean that it is a good idea to stick with the old one.
Fuel cells are on a far faster cost reduction curve than relatively complex engines.

Materials were revised for the electricity-generating stacks, a key device, and for the fuel processor, which produces hydrogen from city gas, while the size of hot water storage tank was also reduced. Matawan Tax Return preparer

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