Can you imagine a future where you are totally independent of Eskom for electricity and oil companies for the fuel in your car? Those are the two most resented purchases in daily life.
Well, I’ve seen the future and it is available right now… at a cost. It’s expensive — ten times the current cost of electricity — simply because everything is experimental and custom-built. But imagine if a visionary SA government, or an Apple or Samsung, took up the challenge with determination… you could be living off the grid in two years’ time.
I’m talking about Hydrogen Fuel Cells.
When I was 11 or 12, I had the fantasy that I would make my fortune from inventing cars that ran on water — by turning water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. Well that was a lifetime ago and Honda Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars have been running in California & Japan for over 10 years.
Of course, one of the problems is places to fill up with hydrogen, so Honda came up with an experimental Home Energy Station, which has operated in California since 2003. And, they say, their latest versions are pretty good. Just imagine if your home can be a net sole provider of all your energy needs!
Now, I won’t buy a Honda Home Energy Station if it means I have to use natural gas from Shell’s fracking in the Karoo. There are other sources and I think people who become early adopters of new, green technologies will be picky about their energy sources.
But does one need natural gas at all? There is a greener way.
Toyota also has a Fuel Cell Vehicle and they promote its use as an emergency supply for domestic electricity.
And in South Africa, where energy supply is severely constrained, there are small teams working on solutions.
Visiting HySA Systems at the University of the Western Cape’s South African Institute of Advanced Materials Chemistry Innovation Centre is a bit like entering a James Bond movie and waiting for M to appear showing Bond how to use the latest toys. This is where fantasy happens and the future becomes a reality.
But why isn’t this establishment 100 times the size, with thousands of people working on solutions, given the mess we’re in today? All credit to the Department of Science & Technology that it exists at all.
Well, if you think about it, is this solution really in government’s interest? There would be no Hitachi, Shell or nuclear power deals to make one party and its cadres even richer. Unless water and sunlight become VAT- and Fuel Levy-rated, the treasury would be much poorer. And of course there would be the loss of Carbon taxes.
And think of all the money municipalities would lose because their electricity undertakings are structured to run at a profit. So is government really looking after your interests or just the status quo? Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology must be the ultimate disruptive technology.
Helen Zille, if you’re looking for a real gamechanger to change lives beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in your Province, this is a place you must visit.
HySA has developed a prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell which powers the administrative offices at the Cape Flats Nature Reserve. That unit is about the size of a fridge. A mass produced unit would be far smaller.
Are you worried about hydrogen being dangerous? Then remember that when the first cars appeared on the roads 100+ years ago, they had to be preceded by a man walking in front of them carrying a red flag. I’d rather take my chances with hydrogen in place of nuclear any day!
We will be publishing a more detailed story about HySA’s work and Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology in our Sustainability blog.