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BlueGen gas-to-electricity units available soon for Australian homes.

Australian homeowners will shortly be able to produce their own electricity on-site, from natural gas, reducing their home’s carbon footprint by five times as much as is possible from a solar PV system.

BlueGen – a gas-to-electricity generation unit about the size of a small dishwasher which contains a stack of ceramic fuel cells – is currently being trialled at a sustainable home in the Melbourne suburb of Epping.

It will be available to Australian consumers in the next few months, via green retailer Neco. BlueGen units have already been sold in Germany, The Netherlands and Japan.

In the home (or other buildings) the BlueGen unit connects to the existing gas inlet and the hot water system. Air and gas is fed into the unit and a chemical reaction takes place, producing both electricity and heat.

Over the course of a year each BlueGen unit can produce about 17,000 kilowatt hours of electricity – more than twice the power needed for an average Australian home. Surplus electricity can be sold back to the power grid.

The heat by-product is enough to produce 200 litres of hot water each day.

BlueGen’s production of both electricity and heat gives it an efficiency of 85%, making it the most efficient power generation system of its kind in the world. Conversely, electricity derived from brown coal is about 25% efficient (75% of the energy produced is lost as heat at the power station or in the transmission and distribution of the electricity).

The BlueGen technology uses 95 per cent less water than coal-fired power stations and when deployed in volume can generate electricity 40 per cent cheaper than the current retail price.

The average Australian home using BlueGen could save more than $1,000 off its annual energy bill, as well as reducing its carbon footprint by up to 18 tonnes per year.

Australia’s fuel cell technology – creating low-emission baseload power from natural gas and fuel cells – came out of CSIRO in the early 1990s. Ceramic Fuel Cells has invested more than $250 million to develop it further.

In Australia, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 12 per cent between 1990 and 2006. Australia produces 23 tonnes of carbon emissions per person per year – four times the world average. Summer peak demand for electricity is increasing by 5 per cent a year.

Currently, coal-fired power stations produce up to 95% of some Australian states' electricity requirements. If BlueGen units were to replace just 7% of Victoria's electricity from brown coal – for example – the state would achieve the Federal Government's target of a 5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions well before 2020.

Australia’s current reliance on coal is proving expensive. In March last year a report prepared for the Energy Networks Association estimated that the upgrading of ageing transmission and distribution networks to cope with increased peak demand for air-conditioners will cost Australia $283 million per year for 20 years – a total cost of $5.6 billion. This cost will be passed on to consumers via electricity bills.

Extraordinarily, 10 per cent of this centralised network capacity is built to cater for about three days per year – on very hot days when air conditioners are in high demand.

Progressive governments around the world are realising that the future of electricity production does not lie in a centralised system based on brown coal but an extensive network of smaller, distributed low emission energy generators, such as fuel cells.

An analogy is the transition of the computer industry from mainframe computers many years ago to laptops, the internet and mobile phones today.

Already progressive foreign governments are promoting the take-up of distributed fuel cell technology.

In the UK such systems attract lower taxes and accelerated tax depreciation. The UK Government announced this week that a feed-in tariff (a premium rate paid for electricity fed back into the electricity grid from designated electricity generation sources) would apply from 1 April 2010 for small low-emission electricity generators, including fuel cells running on natural gas.

Germans receive a capital subsidy of up to 3,300 euros for a 2 kilowatt unit, as well as a feed-in tariff. In Japan Osaka Gas has already identified 1.1 million households suitable for fuel cell technology in the Kansai region.

The Australian coalition announced recently in its climate policy – Direct Action on the Environment and Climate Change – that it would consider rebates for ceramic fuel cells.

For more information: Richard Allen, Oxygen Financial Public Relations, 03. 9915 6341

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