2021: The year of the hockey stick for fuel cells?

E4tech’s eighth annual Fuel Cell Industry Review showed 2021 to be a remarkable year for fuel cells, with around 85,850 units shipped – equating to 2,313MW, even with the Covid pandemic still hanging over markets. This represented a 73% increase on 2020 MW shipments. Which leads us to ask, was 2021 then, the beginning of the acceleration phase of fuel cells in the classic ‘hockey stick’ pattern?

In unit numbers, growth has been much slower; from around 65,200 units in 2016 across all applications, to around 70,000 units between 2017-2019, then 81,800 units in 2020, and finally to 86,000 units in 2021. Most of the unit numbers continue to arise from micro-CHP shipments.

Shipments of 700W micro-CHP units to the largest markets fell from a record 53,500 units worldwide in 2020, to 44,600 units in 2021 (possibly due to reduced access to domestic premises from pandemic shutdowns). Most of the micro-CHP units were to Japan, followed by Germany, South Korea and the rest of Europe. There is now no prospect of the aspiration of 5.3 million units by 2025 in Japan being realised, with fuel cells for all applications still being challenged by cost. Micro-CHP shipments into the US remain negligible, limited to the People’s Power beta testing of 2kW Watt Imperium SOFC (solid oxide fuel cell) systems.

In contrast, shipments of fuel cells for larger CHP and prime power grew (slowly), from 250MW worldwide in 2020, to over 300MW in 2021. Much of the output (around 150MW) went to South Korea, with demand slowing a little as the market waited for the introduction of the Hydrogen Portfolio Standard.

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