You’ve probably heard of zero-energy homes that use solar power and green building materials to produce all of their electrical and heating and cooling needs. Now the developer of the Ridge at Chukker Creek in Aiken, S.C., plans to build several zero-energy homes that can be powered by hydrogen.
Yes, hydrogen—as in futuristic hydrogen-powered cars—only in homes.
Here’s how it will work: About a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the south-facing roof will provide all of the home’s electrical needs during the day, when the solar panels can harvest the energy from the sun. Then at night, the solar array will power an electrolyzer that separates hydrogen from the oxygen in water, and the hydrogen in turn will power the house. The electrolyzer and the hydrogen fuel cell will be located in a detached garage.
“Most hydrogen in the United States is currently produced by using natural gas, which really does not solve the fossil fuel dilemma,” explains architect George Watt. However, powering the hydrogen-making process with solar energy will make it clean.
The Center for Hydrogen Research, which is located in Aiken, is assisting with the project. Although the hydrogen-making system and hydrogen fuel cell for the home is still being designed, developer Ron Monahan says a 2-kilogram per day electrolyzer may provide the electricity needs for a home of 2,200 square feet for nights and during cloudy days—and that 10-kg/day system could also harness heat to get domestic hot water and perhaps fill a hydrogen-powered vehicle. That’s right, the home may have its own hydrogen-car filling station.
The first hydrogen home in the development will be built to reflect South Carolina Midland’s tradition of Low Country style homes with low-pitched roofs and wide porches that create outside living areas and make for good passive solar design. The PV panels will be integrated right into the south-facing roof, says Watt.
The PV system will be tied to the grid, so it sells back extra power to the local utility and can use utility-provided power when needed.
“We anticipate there will be days when it’s cloudy, and the solar won’t provide all the power needed for the home. But there will also be days when we produce more electricity, and we expect it will all even out,” says Watt.
Monahan says his standard green homes, which have spray foam insulation, CFL lighting, heat recovery ventilators and tankless hot water heaters, cost about $130 to $140 per square foot, but that a zero-energy home could add $40,000 to $50,000 to the price tag. The zero-energy homes will also have LED (light emitting diode) lighting, more insulation and more efficient windows, Monahan says. Energy monitoring will be offered as an option.
And if all goes well with this first hydrogen-powered home, expect to see three more at the Ridge at Chukker Creek. “This is a prototype home, but someone’s got to take the first step,” Monahan says.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates