Using fuel cells to power buildings hasn't been in the news much compared to other forms of clean energy in last few years, but the market is growing fairly rapidly.
Fuel cells that provide electricity for buildings are called "stationary" fuel cells. They provide the benefits of on-site, baseload energy.
Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) has contracted with UTC Power, a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE:UTX) company, for its fourth fuel cell, this time a 400-kilowatt (kW) system at a supermarket in Connecticult.
The fuel cell which will generate 90% of the store's electricity, and its thermal energy byproduct will be used for store heating, cooling and refrigeration.
Besides providing baseload energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the fuel cell systen will allow Whole Foods to save nearly 3.5 million gallons of water annually. Unlike other fuel cell technologies, the UTC Power System recycles water used - neither consuming or discharging water during operation.
UTC says its system leads the industry with 90% efficiency. It also boasts 10-year cell stack durability and 20-year product life.
UTC's claims are backed up by a report by Pike Research that states UTC Power and competitor FuelCell Energy are the two fuel cell manufacturers best positioned to take advantage of the growing market.
The report notes increasing commercial adoption of fuel cells and a residential market that is "only a matter of months behind."
FuelCell Energy attained the highest overall score in the report due to a combination of a clear go-to-market strategy, geographic reach, and partnerships, coupled with its cost-effective systems and mass manufacturing.
In this market, where high-quality, high-volume manufacturing is not yet the norm, Pike's research director Kerry-Ann Adamson says that FuelCell Energy's ability to ramp up manufacturing based on market demand gives it a clear edge.
UTC Power is the runner-up on both "Strategy" and "Execution."
On the residential side, the top manufacturer is ClearEdge Power, with Ceramic Fuel Cells only one point behind.
Interestingly, high-profile fuel cell company Bloom Energy is ranked much lower - 10th out of 15 companies.
Bloom Energy emerged on the scene with much fanfare in 2010, and was the subject of a 60 Minutes spot. This week, they signed a deal with AT&T this week to provide fuel cells for 11 California facilities. Other major customers include Adobe Systems, Coca-Cola and Ebay. Pike's research, however, sees them falling short in meeting the challenges facing the industry.
New business models for the industry are emerging, where customers will have the option of buying or leasing a fuel cell power unit. Some companies are developing a product specifically for one country, for example in the Japanese residential market. "So although a company may be leading today, in terms of deployment, looking forward it could face significant barriers to entry for its product in other regions," says Adamson.
The top 15 fuel cell manufacturers are (Pike Research):
- FuelCell Energy
- UTC Power
- POSCO Power
- ClearEdge Power
- Ceramic Fuel Cells
- Fuji Electric
- Panasonic; Toshiba Fuel Cell Power; Eneos Celltech
- Topsoe Fuel Cell
- Bloom Energy
- Intelligent Energy
- Baxi Innotech
- Ceres Power
- GS Fuel CellsTechnology