News | 13th Mar, 2010

Fuel cells a tough sell in a coal-fired economy

Saturday, 13 March 2010
Adam Morton, The Age

If you are flicking on a light switch in Melbourne today, there is a 96 per cent chance you are buying electricity generated more than 100 kilometres away, beneath a Latrobe Valley smokestack.

It is a cheap way to set up an electricity system, but hugely inefficient.

An estimated 75 per cent of the energy generated at Hazelwood and Yallourn is lost as heat or used onsite. Another 5 per cent is lost during transmission and distribution. It means only about 20 per cent of the energy ends up making the distance.

The electrons firing your bulb are also environmentally unfriendly, coming from decades-old technology that burns brown coal, the most greenhouse gas intensive major power source.

The replacement for this ''dirty'' power in coming years may not be what most expect – initially large-scale gas plants supplemented by wind farms, with solar thermal and geothermal hopefully to follow. It could also come from a box about the size of a small washing machine that sits down the side of your house.

This, at least, is the line of Ceramic Fuel Cells, the company behind the solid oxide fuel cell technology known as BlueGen. Based in Noble Park, it is said to produce enough power in a year to run a standard home more than twice over.

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