Remember the days when you used to wake up to the hiss of a steam turbine in the back yard? I don’t. Steam turbines are not practical for residential use, therefore they didn’t make it into the residential sector.
The German-based heating and power solutions company Viessmann has developed a combined heat and power system for use in your own home called the Vitovalor PT2, and they claim it could save you up 40% on energy costs.
The Vitovalor fuel cell system generates both heat and electricity by combining the fuel (natural gas in this case) with an oxygen. Heat is a byproduct of the electricity generation process, if you’d like to call it that. However, it is a significant amount of heat, therefore it is certainly a heater in its own right.
The Viessmann fuel cell generators can provide up to 30.8 kW of heat (which translates to 105,089 BTU), which is sufficient for some (average-sized) homes and 18 kW of electricity. The Vitovalor PT2 is powered by a Panasonic fuel cell unit and can be used to recharge an optional Vitocharge energy storage unit (this is essentially a large lithium-ion battery pack).
Apart from the energy savings, fuel cell generators offer the benefit of quiet operation, as they are solid-state. Conventional natural gas-powered generators will either keep your eyes open at night with the loud hiss of steam, or the growl of a combustion engine. That doesn’t cut it for continuous residential use.
This technological advancement is not just a win for the future of the natural gas industry over the long term, but it is a win for off-grid renewable energy generators. Off-grid solar energy systems can either be backed up with batteries recharged by solar panels, or by a generator.
Conventional gasoline and diesel-powered generators are noisy and expensive. Therefore quieter, more efficient systems like this could help to facilitate the growth of the off-grid solar power market. The effect of this is going to be hinged on the initial cost of the Vitovalor, provided that it actually is as cost-effective as Viessmann says it is.