In the next few years, homeowners across the Great Lakes region could get a new, environmentally friendly way to power their homes – thanks to an automaker. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
In the next few years, homeowners across the Great Lakes region could get a new, environmentally friendly way to power their homes – thanks to an automaker. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, Bill Poorman reports.
General Motors has announced that it’s going to begin selling fuel cell power plants for use in homes or in offices in the next two or three years. Daniel O’ Connel is a staff engineer with GM’s fuel cell program. He unveiled the new system at a recent automotive conference.
“The unit we demonstrated this morning is a 5 kilowatts. That would be about enough to provide for an average home. The unit we showed this morning was about the size of a conventional refrigerator.”
All of Detroit’s automakers are working on fuel cell systems for their vehicles, not for homes. They are considered something like a Holy Grail that will let car companies escape environmental criticism. When they’re perfected, fuel cells will take in hydrogen from some source – perhaps methane, natural gas, or even everyday gasoline. Through a chemical process, they will produce electricity, and the main waste product is water.
But fuel cells have been a long time coming. Automakers are working to reduce the weight, size, and cost of the systems so that they can be put into cars. Auto analyst Paul Eisenstein of the car web site thecarconnection.com says that car companies moving into the home seems unusual at first. But it has some basic business reasons behind it.
“The automakers are hoping that they can use the home fuel cell technology to learn a lot about it, and to get it into mass production, and lower the costs of on-the-road or mobile fuel cells, as well.”
Plus, Eisenstein says, the move could help speed up research into fuel cells for all applications.
“This way they might be able to go to market much sooner and develop a revenue source that could fund further fuel cell development efforts.”
But GM still has to put a lot of pieces into place before it starts selling home fuel cell units. GM’s Daniel O’Connel says the company is still looking for the best way to jump into an unfamiliar business.
“Currently GM does not have the distribution network to set up a non-automotive applications, so we’re looking for partners to help us out in that arena.”
Of course, the ultimate goal for GM is to be the first company to mass produce affordable fuel cell powered cars and trucks. But the timeline for that is a bit longer. Most automakers believe it could be up to a decade before the cars are ready. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.