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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cell company fuelling feed-in tariff debate

By Victoria Bruce
As Australia's carbon debate heats up, one company says it has a solution to offset growing energy demands.

Ceramic Fuel Cells group general manager Andrew Neilson says a box the size of a bar fridge could save up to 75 per cent of household power bills and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

The Melbourne company's BlueGen fuel cell unit converts natural gas and renewable fuels into power and heat.

Ceramic Fuel Cells supplies to governments and energy companies in Australia and overseas, including Germany, France, Britain, Japan and the United States.

In Germany, one of the company's biggest customers, utility firms supply the BlueGen unit free of charge to households, which then pay for the natural gas they use.

In Australia, solar energy technology can be connected to energy grids and owners paid a feed-in tariff. This isn't allowed for fuel cell technologies.

Mr Neilson says this restriction makes it difficult to crack the residential market in Australia.

"It's something we're lobbying the state governments about at the moment. So far, we've seen lots of nodding heads, but no action."

Mr Neilson says a carbon tax will encourage the switch to gas as grid electricity becomes more expensive. "It will become more economically attractive to make the switch away from grid power towards other sources.

And it does this with the highest electrical efficiency of any generating technology in the world."

Ceramic Fuel Cells has called for reviews of feed-in tariffs in NSW and Victoria to extend to low-emission technologies such as fuel cells.

Meanwhile, Mr Neilson said the company was focussing on exports.

The CSIRO says a two-kilowatt BlueGen unit, currently retailing at $45,000, can save up to 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year when replacing power derived from brown coal.

Ceramic Fuel Cells recently won a contract to supply 25 BlueGen units to Ausgrid for installation in Australia's largest grid project, based in Newcastle.

Other domestic customers included the Victorian Government, Adelaide City Council and Canberra Institute of Technology.

Ceramic Fuel Cells began selling BlueGen units in May 2009, and posted a loss of $8.4 million for the six months to last December 31, due to a 37 per cent drop in sales revenue and the impact of a stronger Australian dollar.

"We're in the process of starting to ramp up sales and that will deliver revenue to get us cash-flow positive and then ultimately profitable," Mr Neilson says.