AIKEN, S.C. - A team of experts who have assembled the technology to build what is said to be America’s first commercially-available net zero energy house to be powered by solar energy and a hydrogen fuel cell broke ground and began construction at The Ridge at Chukker Creek residential development in Aiken, S.C.

Hydrogen technology efforts in Aiken County include the county’s own $10 million Center for Hydrogen Research (CHR). Also in Aiken County are the Savannah River Site (SRS) and the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) where advanced hydrogen research has been conducted for nearly 60 years. These entities work closely with the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The new net zero energy house was inspired by developer Ron Monahan and architect George Watt, who with CHR lead scientist Scott Greenway, Ph.D., put together the technology to build a house that is expected to have no net energy bill over a year’s time and that will store its excess solar-created electricity in a hydrogen fuel cell for later use. Other partners in the project include the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield Counties and the Aiken Electric Cooperative.

According to the project team, the regenerative fuel cell system will move the hydrogen house from being a traditional net zero energy home toward being an energy independent home. The key to energy independence is energy storage. The regenerative fuel cell system stores solar energy as hydrogen through electrolysis of water in a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer. The hydrogen produced by the electrolyzer is stored as a solid in a metal hydride bed designed at SRNL. When solar energy is not available, hydrogen gas is released from the metal hydride bed and is reacted electrochemically in a PEM fuel cell to produce water, electricity, and heat. In addition to providing electrical energy to the house, heat will be captured from the electrolyzer and fuel cell to pre-heat water entering the hot water heater.

A key step in the home’s design is said to be electrical load reduction through energy efficient design. Since renewable energy is currently one of the most expensive design elements, reducing electrical demand from the home’s heat pump through the use of spray foam insulation, a smart framing system, and a radiant barrier roof are important design features. In addition, energy efficient appliances were chosen to further reduce the base load on the house.

The hot water from the regenerative fuel cell system is expected to nearly eliminate energy consumption for hot water heating. Additionally, the regenerative fuel cell system will provide hot water for use in heating the house in winter. Since the regenerative fuel cell system provides heat in the winter, it helps reduce electricity usage during peak seasonal grid demand in the region.

This initial house will serve as a demo home, with more solar/hydrogen fuel cell houses expected to be built at The Ridge at Chukker Creek.

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Publication date:09/21/2009