Natural Gas Can Generate Electricity For The Home
By the time electricity from coal fired power stations gets to where it is used, the efficiency has dropped to less than 25%, meaning three quarters of the energy has been wasted. Clean energy guru Jeff Harding points this out. Just as mainframe computers gave way to personal computers, the energy system needs to move from a ‘centralised’ model towards a ‘distributed’ or ‘embedded’ model, where thousands of mini power stations are installed in homes and other buildings, just where the power is needed. Ceramic Fuel Cells can supplement renewable generation to reduce carbon emissions
Think Beyond Renewables to Cut Carbon Emissions
By Jeff Harding, Chairman Ceramic Fuel Cells.
It is now well recognised that the world’s energy system requires a transformation. Energy use is rising, particularly summer peak demand for electricity, and the monopoly electricity network companies are spending billions to upgrade ageing infrastructure, which is passed on to the consumer through increased power bills.
And yet there is bi-partisan agreement that Australia must cut its greenhouse gas emissions, especially from power generation.
The problem is particularly severe in Australia, which burns coal to generate most of its electricity. These generators have an efficiency of less than 30 percent. By the time the power gets to where it is used, the efficiency has dropped to less than 25 percent, meaning three quarters of the energy has been wasted.
Burning coal is the most polluting way of generating electricity. Australia’s per capita carbon emissions are the highest in the world – about 23 tonnes per person, per year.
The current model of building large, inefficient power stations, a long way from where the power is needed, is no longer good enough. We need new thinking to transform our energy system.
Just as mainframe computers gave way to personal computers, the energy system is moving from a ‘centralised’ model towards a ‘distributed’ or ‘embedded’ model, where thousands of mini power stations are installed in homes and other buildings, just where the power is needed.
Renewable energy such as solar, wave, wind and geothermal are absolutely necessary but cannot provide the whole answer. Nuclear energy is environmentally preferable to coal but has long lead times and other well known issues.
Fuel cells using natural gas can provide low emission baseload power, with significant benefits to the environment and the energy network – and significant cost savings.
Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited, based in Melbourne, has launched a gas to electricity generator called “BlueGen”. The unit operates constantly, all-year round – complementing solar and wind which are intermittent and not controllable. One BlueGen operating constantly at 1.5kW will generate about 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year – twice the annual requirement of the average home in Victoria. The excess is sold back to the grid. BlueGen also makes enough heat for provide 200 litres of hot water per day – enough for the average family home.
About the size of a home dishwasher, BlueGen units can be installed without additional infrastructure costs, and with significant environmental benefits. It delivers electricity at about 60% efficiency, with an additional 25% of the energy being collected as heat which goes into the hot water system.
A home with a BlueGen unit can actually offset more carbon than a home with a typical solar PV system. For example, in Sydney a 2kW solar PV system will generate about 3,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per year and offset about 3.7 tonnes of carbon. A BlueGen unit in the same house could generate more than 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and save about 9 tonnes of carbon per year. Even though the BlueGen uses natural gas, the carbon savings are much higher because over the year it provides all the power the home needs – and more. A home with a solar PV unit still relies on higher emission grid power.
Ceramic Fuel Cells has received orders for 13 BlueGen units from leading energy companies in Europe, plus VicUrban in Melbourne and Energy Australia in Sydney. Many large markets provide incentives for these units to be installed – including Germany, France, UK, USA, Japan and Korea. No incentives are currently available in Australia.
To achieve the world’s carbon reduction goals requires open thinking: a product using natural gas – with very high efficiency – can supplement renewable generation to reduce carbon emissions, quickly and cheaply.