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Fuel cell technology increasing

Adoption of fuel cell powered products is gathering increasing momentum in a wide variety of application areas. The shift from an R&D-based industry to a fully commercial one is well under way, though it has not been without its setbacks. Fuel cells are now being deployed for applications as diverse as residential power, off-grid mobile communications sites in Africa, low-carbon transportation and electrical grid reliability. According to a new report from Pike Research, Boulder, Colo., global fuel cell shipments doubled between 2008 and 2010, from approximately 7,500 units to more than 15,000 units annually during that period.

“The reasons for the groundswell of interest in fuel cells are as varied as the sectors that are implementing the technology,” says research director Kerry-Ann Adamson. “Industry and government leaders are finding that fuel cells are a highly effective tool for deploying reliable, clean power for stationary, portable and transport applications.”

Adamson adds that the largest fuel cell unit growth has been in the stationary power sector, which represented approximately 60 percent of shipments during 2010. Demand for stationary fuel cells is being driven by a number of early adopter sectors including the Japanese market for residential units, power for grid-tied and off-grid mobile base stations globally, and combined heat and power (CHP) plants for a variety of markets, including hospitals and hotels. Portable fuel cells have had their ups and downs over the past two years, with a temporary spike in shipments created by the sale of 3,000 Toshiba Dynario external battery rechargers in 2009, followed by a sharp decline in total sales in 2010. Significant volumes for transportation fuel cells in cars and buses are still several years away as automakers gear up for fuel cell vehicle (FCV) launches in 2015, though shipments from the auxiliary power unit (APU) sector continue to increase year-on-year.

In the midst of this period of market evolution, the fuel cell competitive landscape is coming into clearer focus. With literally scores of companies having active development programs, Pike Research’s analysis indicates that a handful of market leaders and fast followers are beginning to emerge. The analysis shows that in 2010 less than a dozen companies accounted for the vast majority of global shipments. “The next few years will determine which of the current fuel cell companies will survive and thrive, and which will fall by the wayside,” says Adamson, “but this is also a time when barriers to entry for new companies are decreasing. With the start of product standardization, the creation of new business models, and the increasing focus on product shipments, we fully anticipate the market opening up to many new entrants over the next five years.”

An executive summary of Pike Research’s first annual “Fuel Cells Annual Report” is available for free download on the firm’s website, www.pikeresearch.com


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