Japan is working on doing for the hydrogen fuel cell what it accomplished with computer chips and cars in the last century, slashing costs to make them more appealing to consumers.
As fuel-cell technology finds its way into factories and commercial buildings, Japanese manufacturers includingPanasonic Corp. (6752) are working to make them small and cheap enough for the home. The country has set a goal of installing them in 5.3 million homes by 2030, about 10 percent of all households.
With 100,000 already installed, residential fuel cells fit into Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision of a “hydrogen society,” using the most abundant element in the universe as an alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels. The systems produce electricity through a chemical reaction that also generates heat, which is captured to make hot water for homes.
“Home fuel cells are one strong weapon to improve energy efficiency,” said Chihiro Tobe, head of a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry office promoting fuel cells. “The use of hydrogen can contribute to saving energy, tackling environmental issues and increasing energy security.”
After shutting down its nuclear reactors following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan is applying decades of experience in slashing manufacturing costs to become the first major market where residential fuel cells are taking hold.