Fuel cell costs

The only fuel cell system for which commercial costs are available is the PAFC. Commercial 200-kW units are available for a cost of around $900,000, or $4500/kW. In practice most of these units have been installed in the USA where they have often qualified for a government subsidy of $200,000, reducing installed cost to $3500/kW. Even so, this is a high price compared to other types of small power generation or small co-generation systems.

While there may be opportunities to bring down the cost of PAFC fuel cells further, it seems unlikely that they will ever be able to achieve the near-term industry cost target of $1500/kW or the long-term target of

$400/kW by 2015. So while this first generation fuel cell is providing operating experience with the technology, it seems almost certain to be superseded by one of the other types being developed.

The PEM fuel cell is benefiting from investment from the automotive industry and this has allowed the technology to advance rapidly. The technology is almost ready for deployment and early indications suggest that a near-term installed cost of $1400/kW is achievable. General Electric believes it can market 75 kW units to the automotive industry for $500/kW by 20058 and $50/kW by 2010. Power production costs from first generation PEM fuel cell systems of $0.10/kWh have been suggested. This will need to be proved in service, but the near-term future of the PEM fuel cell looks promising from an economic perspective.

The MCFC has reached the demonstration stage. Early units are reputed to cost around $10,000/kW9 but this should fall before commercial units are offered. No prices are available for demonstration SOFC units but a similar cost to that of the MCFC seems likely.

Operating and maintenance costs for all types of fuel cell should be relatively low. PAFC fuel cell stacks require replacement after around 5 years but other types of cell, particularly the SOFC, should prove more durable. The efficiency of the fuel cell and its good environmental performance should make electricity generated by fuel cell power plants attractive. They will only prove economic, however, if they can compete effectively on installed cost and that means breaking the $1500/kW barrier in the near term.

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