I have always been interested in energy innovation and learning about alternative means of home heating. There are a number of options available that have a reduced environmental impact compared to the traditional gas boiler. But have you considered hydrogen? Hydrogen as a fuel is discussed more and more, it’s a hot topic throughout the HVAC and environmental communities and although the surge in battery viability has seen a slower progress of the hydrogen technology, there are viable products available in the domestic market. I interviewed Patrick Wheeler, Director of VitoEnergy to find out more about the Viessmann Vitovalor Hydrogen fuel cell unit. Patrick had a lot to teach me about the technology, the sustainability and the financial viability for the end users.
So Patrick, tell me about the manufacturer – Viessmann
“Viessmann is a family run German company and have been innovating and delivering domestic and commercial HVAC and cooling equipment for over 100 years.
In 2019 their continued efforts were again rewarded by winning the Heating manufacturer of the year in Germany for the 29th year running, to give some context the better known Vaillant and Worcester Bosch are also Germany based manufacturers so there is a he amount of strong competition.
Viessmann have a keen attention on the European and North American market and produce the world’s most efficient gas boilers and oil burners, they lead the industry regarding weather compensation and optimisation and have been awarded the Which? Best Buy award and Trustpilot highest marks allowing them to claim the “UK’s most reliable boilers”.”
Could you give me a bit of background about the Viessmann Vitovalor Hydrogen Fuel Cell system?
“To give a bit of history on the Vitovalor we need to talk about Panasonic first; in Japan the tech giant has been including fuel cells in its product range for over a decade and has six figures of installed units. These are typically used for light commercial wash rooms and often the fuel cell is positioned outside, subjected to the elements including rain and snow.
In 2014 Panasonic and Viessmann entered a partnership to create a jointly produced product – Vitovalor. Panasonic built the fuel cell half and Viessmann modified a 222-F storage combination boiler, the “hybrid” that was created allowed for the fuel cell to run for long periods of time and the high efficiency gas boiler to run for peak load times giving a best of both worlds setup.
The internal hot water storage tank removes the need for a separate space hogging cylinder elsewhere in the house so everything a home needs for heating, hot water and power is in one relatively compact box. Now when we say “relatively” this has to be taken in context, the unit is 1200mm wide and 2m tall so it will dominate a bedroom or kitchen but compared to a separate boiler, cylinder, pump and valves etc it is quite a small footprint.”
So tell me about the clever bit; power generation!
“The main selling point of the Vitovalor for both financial and environmental reasons other than the high efficiency gas boiler is the fuel cell itself, the cell uses natural gas to produce heat and power with zero emissions other than water vapour. Each hour this cell can produce 1kw of heat which is stored in the buffer and 750w of electricity at an unbeatably low carbon intensity.
The 750wh is designed to more than cover the average base load of a property, a typical 3-4 bed house with two adults and two kids might have about 8-12kwh of power demand per day which averages out at under 500wh. The Vitovalor won’t be able to cover peak load periods like a tumble drier or hair drier etc so it isn’t (for most people) going to meet 100% of demand without a battery backup.
Any power generated that is not used or stored for later use can be exported for profit, there are an increasing amount of energy providers who are in desperate need of local and clean energy and will pay per kw of electricity on a metered plan. The price varies for exported energy and at the moment clean energy isn’t rewarded any more than basic chp or battery store trading but we hope in the future there will be a premium paid for clean energy as demand outstrips commercial supply.”
Could you explain to our readers about the Smart Export Guarantee or SEG?
“The Vitovalor is sized to cover the base load of a typical house if however, you produce more electricity than you consume this will go back to the grid. This is purchased from you in the form of the ‘Smart Export Guarantee’ or SEG.
SEG pays variable half-hourly rates based on grid demand and/or rates per microgeneration source. The fact the Vitovalor produces at times of high demand and low renewable production (i.e. in the evenings, and winter) which puts it in a position to potentially receive the highest rates available which range from 1p/kWh to 35p/kWh.
Octopus energy, known as the ‘Agile Outgoing Octopus’. 2018 prices can be seen here. https://octopus.energy/documents/12/outgoing_rates.xlsx”
I’ve heard about the “spark gap” what is this?
“The economics of the Vitovalor rely on the “spark gap” or put simply the difference in cost between your power and gas per kw. Typically, a homeowner will pay around 15p for electricity (usually more expensive in commercial) and 3p for gas (plus standing charges) so the spark gap is 12p or 1:5 and as we are essentially making electricity from gas the savings are obvious.
The electricity at your sockets is only around 40% efficient due to transmission losses and losses from cooling towers. This unit produced 88% efficient electricity but also, importantly does not use combustion, but a fuel cell process, meaning no nasty NOX produced and water vapour as a by-product.”
Can the Vitovalor Hydrogen Fuel Cell System protect against rising electricity costs?
“Energy prices are only going one way and the cost of transporting gas and electricity is predicted to rise by around 5-6% (gas) and 8-15% (electricity) in the next few years. This is actually of course a good sign for microgeneration owners as this will increase your spark gap.”
Does installing the Vitovalor Hydrogen Fuel Cell System have an impact on property value?
“The Vitovalor’s huge benefits to carbon reduction have been recognised by being awarded a SAP rating of A+++ which is the highest of any heating or power generation product available, and considerably raises the properties EPC which impacts on value.
Commercial landlords are required to meet certain criteria for their properties in order to legally let it and a high SAP rated appliance may help meet much of that without the need to install solar on the roof or undertake huge insulation work.”
What kind of warranty is available?
“The Vitovalor benefits from 10-year parts and labour Warranty provided its serviced as per the service schedule and installed by a competent person trained by Viessmann. The gas unit will run happily for two decades as we see with the counterpart in standard gas and the cell is estimated to run for 15-20 years provided it is maintained regularly.”
How much does the Vitovalor Hydrogen Fuel Cell System cost?
“Domestic prices start £13,500 Plus VAT which could be as little as 5%, although the VAT threshold has become more complicated there is still a reduced rate for certain projects.
A comparable high-efficiency installation of a boiler and cylinder (comparable means a similar quality like a higher-end Vaillant with higher-end OSO cylinder or specifically the Viessmann 222F unit) should be over £7,000 which means the Vitovalor pays for itself within the ten-year warranty period. This doesn’t consider the rising electricity prices or the smart export guarantee payments.
Gas usage should lower by approximately 20% due to the integrated hot water system and use the most efficient weather compensated heating available, especially if the system being replaced is more than 20 years old there will be gas savings and electricity savings that will pay for the unit well within the warranty period.”
Do you have any final words for our readers?
“Much of the news about Hydrogen is regarding future technologies and prototypes, it is a very exciting time for technological advancements and the next decade will see a huge leap in variety and affordability.
The Viessmann Vitovalor is a future technology that is available right now across Europe and including the UK, it is versatile enough to supply any domestic and most light commercial properties and can be installed in cascade for larger buildings.”
Thank you Patrick!
If you are interested in finding out more, or would like to find out if the Viessmann Vitovalor Hydrogen Fuel Cell System is suited to your home, talk to Patrick at VitoEnergy who will be happy to answer any of your queries.