Belgium has taken the decision to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2025, which creates an opportunity for decentralised and low carbon technologies like Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration. As a study by Belgium’s electricity transmission system operator – Elia demonstrates, Belgium will have to invest in at least 3.6 GW of new gas capacity to replace the nuclear power plants. Pushing for efficiency gains through cogeneration, including Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration, is key to ensure a sustainable, secure and efficient energy future. In Belgium, the introduction of Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration is still in its infancy. In general, end users, members of the supply chain, and policy-makers are very unaware of the technology, its benefits, and the potential role it could play in creating a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly energy supply. Another issue is that, despite the recognition that gas is the fossil fuel of choice to balance renewables, gas is to be believed to be phased out by 2050. Furthermore, the dominant focus on the electrification of the heat sector hinders investment in the Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration. The potential energy gap left by the aging nuclear power plants and their negative image might on the other hand present an opportunity. But there is a risk that cogeneration is left out the capacity mechanism which will be installed to encourage investments in new production capacity.
This lack of awareness regarding Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration is also clear from the limited amount of available policy instruments to support the technology. In Brussels and Wallonia, the support schemes for cogeneration are not sufficient to stimulate the uptake of Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration. In Flanders, a new investment support scheme related to power output has been introduced in 2018. However, the amount of support is too low to guarantee a convincing return on investment. Based on previous experience with support schemes, investment support should aim at providing an adequate return on investment for Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration, to kick-start the market and motivate consumers to invest in the technology.
Further barriers relate to the implementation of buildings’ legislation, pursuant to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, as the methodology to assess cogeneration does not fully account for the real efficiency benefits of the technology. Furthermore, in Belgium cogeneration is not accepted as an alternative energy efficiency measure within minimal renewable energy share in buildings, as it is the case in other member states.
Besides informing and persuading policy-makers, significant efforts should be directed towards raising awareness about Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration technology among the supply chain and indirectly end users.