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ISH 2013 - Germany emerges as a hot bed of activity for small cogen, including a sneak peak at new residential fuel cells

For me, two main trends seemed to stand out at ISH this year:

1. Residential fuel cell micro-CHP part of major players future vision – two new Foto 6products from two market leaders – Bosch and Viessmann – means fuel cell should now appear in the future product portfolios of all the major OEMs.

Both manufacturers have partnered with major Japanese corporations in order to “jump the queue” and attain the technology that can offer homeowners the highest electrical efficiencies of any of the cogeneration technologies. Bosch has partnered with Aisin (a manufacturer with strong links to Toyota) to bring an integrated system – similar in size to an American fridge-freezer – to Europe. Offering 700W of electrical power and an electrical efficiency of 45% (90% overall), this uses solid oxide technology and is not so different from some of the ENE-FARM systems that are proving massively popular in Japan at the moment.

Viessmann on the other hand, has paired up with Panasonic to bring a different fuel cell technology – proton exchange membrane – to Europe, with a higher electrical output of 750W but slightly lower electrical efficiency of 37% (also 90% overall). This co-branded product is again quite large – similar in size to the Bosch unit – but slightly smaller due to the lower volume hot water and buffer tanks. It can be split into two separate units.

Time will be needed to optimise the products for European conditions and each pairing will begin field trials over the coming years, targeting a commercial launch from around the middle of the decade.

2. Increasing competition in the German mini-CHP arena – not just from the established OEMs but also from a huge range of new players in the 5kW – 20kW range, using engines from Toyota, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and a host of others.

We were already seeing the small commercial cogen segment getting more competitive in Germany before “Der Energiewender” – or “The Energy U-turn”. Since then, there has been an explosion in the number of companies targeting this sector, where customer decisions are typically more based on economics and energy prices. We’ve seen major OEMs getting involved too, with Vaillant and Remeha launching new product. Major players from other industries have also started launching mini-CHP products, such as Volkswagen. Finally, established CHP companies have been expanding their range of systems – like EC Power, Kirsch and SenerTec – who all launched new product in smaller size ranges suitable for multi- and even single-family homes, as well as small commercial applications.

All this means that the product choice for customers is expanding, as are the number of buildings types that are suitable for all the various cogeneration products and technologies out there.  

These are important steps being made on the road to market success for these small cogen systems, although most will have availability limited to within Germany’s borders. I think it’s becoming clear that Germany will emerge as the key battleground market for the companies selling and installing these products. 

What’s not so clear, is how long customers in other markets will have to wait for the same product choice, or how quickly prices will come down.

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