Going green in the city as home fuel cells come to Tokyo

Going green in the city as home fuel cells come to Tokyo

Farm your own energy for your house as one Japanese company aims to convert whole towns to renewable energy
home appliance, Panasonic, fuel cells, electric vehicles
Living ecologically doesn't have to mean moving back to rural life.

While the concept of fuel cells has been around for years, the technology still has a futuristic ring to it.

I'm sure whenever my jet-pack arrives it certainly won't run on double-A batteries. But perhaps a compact fuel cell might be sufficiently cool. 

In the meantime, the reality of fuel cell technology on the ground in Japan just took a significant leap forward thanks to a joint development by Panasonic and Tokyo Gas that allows home-owners to energize their own house.

home appliance, Panasonic, fuel cells, electric vehiclesHiroaki Kobayashi from Tokyo Gas (Right) and Takashi Iwasa from Panasonic (Left) hand-in-hand for their better future.

Cutting-edge electricity generation system

This past week the two companies announced a new model of their Ene-Farm home-use fuel cell, named such because it enables consumers to farm their own energy.

It's a co-generation system which creates electricity by reacting oxygen in the atmosphere with hydrogen from city gas.

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This process generates heat and hot water as a useful by-product. And since all electricity is created on site, there is no energy lost during the transmission. 

Panasonic and Tokyo Gas have been jointly developing such products for more than a decade, and in 2005 installed the first fuel-cell co-generation system in the Japanese Prime Minister's residence.

May 2009 saw the launch of the first generation of fuel cell, and 4,000 units have sold since then.

home appliance, Panasonic, fuel cells, electric vehiclesEne-Farm's second generation gets a sexy sheen makeover.

Efficient, tough, and Tokyo-friendly

But this new model is exciting for a couple of important reasons.

The second generation Ene-Farm has, according to Panasonic, the "world's highest power generation efficiency." 

It's also a whole lot smaller, occupying about half the surface area as the previous version which housed the fuel cell and hot water tank in two disconnected units. 

The new version is taller and thinner, far more Tokyo friendly, and while occupying about two square meters it's capable of being installed even in cramped urban spaces.

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The core components of the system have been downsized and the weight of the fuel cell unit has been reduced by 25 kilograms.

The unit's exterior design is modeled after a conventional residential siding and is intended to blend in outside your home. Thankfully the remote control panel is installed inside, where you can monitor the output and even set an energy expense target if you choose.

The new Ene-Farm can be used for up to 50,000 hours, which is almost six years if it were in operation continuously. This is a 20 percent improvement over the previous model and, according to Panasonic, the unit includes 10 years of maintenance support as well.

Admittedly the expense is still beyond what most consumers would pay for a home energy solution, although the price tag has dropped to ¥2,761,500, down ¥700,000 since the previous model.

home appliance, Panasonic, fuel cells, electric vehiclesYour whole home's energy in a controller.

Sustainable towns?

But Panasonic says that users can reduce utility bills by about ¥50,000 to ¥60,000 and cut CO2 emissions by almost half.

OK, it's still out of my budget, but as the company slowly edges closer to a realistic home energy solution for the general public, us Tokyoites could soon find the control of all our energy in our own hands.

The draw of such co-generation systems, of course, doesn't lie in the price but rather in efficient use of limited natural gas resources and reduced CO2 emissions for us with an eco conscience.

Because they create electricity using hydrogen, such systems would serve to ease us into a possible hydrogen-powered future, should natural gas become too scarce or expensive.

 Solar panel Britain

Tokyo Gas will begin selling the new model of Ene-Farm fuel cell on April 1, 2011. Other gas companies around Japan, including Toho Gas, Saibu Gas, Shizuoka Gas, and Keiyo Gas also carry Ene-Farm systems.

Panasonic was front and center at the recent Eco Products 2011 exhibition at Tokyo Big Sight, showing off its vision for an energy sustainable town.

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The display featured a solar recharging station for electric vehicles, as well as energy efficient solutions for the home and office, and for factories and convenience stores as well.

And on February 14 the company also announced an agreement with British Gas to bring compact, more versatile photo-voltaic solar panels to British homes.