Fuel cells as combined heat and power systems in commercial buildings : a case study in the food-retail sector

Acha, Salvador and Le Brun, Niccolo and Damaskou, Maria and Fubara, Tekena Craig and Mulgundmath, Vinay and Markides, Christos N. and Shah, Nilay (2020) Fuel cells as combined heat and power systems in commercial buildings : a case study in the food-retail sector. Energy, 206. 118046. ISSN 1873-6785 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2020.118046)

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This work investigates the viability of fuel cells (FC) as combined heat and power (CHP) prime movers in commercial buildings with a specific focus on supermarkets. Up-to-date technical data from a FC manufacturing company was obtained and applied to evaluate their viability in an existing food-retail building. A detailed optimisation model for enhancing distributed energy system management described in previous work is expanded upon to optimise the techno-economic performance of FC-CHP systems. The optimisations employ comprehensive techno-economic datasets that reflect current market trends. Outputs highlight the key factors influencing the economics of FC-CHP projects. Furthermore, a comparative analysis against a competing internal combustion engine (ICE) CHP system is performed to understand the relative techno-economic characterisitcs of each system. Results indicate that FCs are becoming financially competitive although ICEs are still a more attractive option. For supermarkets, the payback period for installing a FC system is 4.7–5.9 years vs. 4.0–5.6 years for ICEs when policies are considered. If incentives are removed, FC-CHP systems have paybacks in the range 6–10 years vs. 5–8.5 years for ICE-based systems. A sensitivity analysis under different market and policy scenarios is performed, offering insights into the performance gap fuel cells face before becoming more competitive.