Could fuel cell technologies offer a solution against power outages caused by Storm Doris?

As the chaos caused by Storm Doris begins to subside, the UK finds itself in a place of reflection.  Whilst the British are famous worldwide for our endless love of discussing the weather, we have never been a particularly resilient country when it actually comes to dealing it. We are brought to a standstill by a dusting of snow and can barely function if the temperature exceeds 30oC.  So it is no wonder that when a storm with 100mph winds, snow and torrential rain comes knocking that the UK is flung into a state of chaos. We’re just not built to withstand extreme weather.

But with the spectre of climate change looming ever larger, should we accept that the ‘freak’ storm may soon become the ‘norm’ storm? And if so, do we need to adapt accordingly and learn from other parts of the world where events like Doris are a regular occurrence?

One of the areas where the UK could increase its resilience is power. Storm Doris caused blackouts for over 40,000 homes and businesses. Whilst for some, being without power for a few hours is nothing more than a mild irritation, for many homes and businesses power is of vital importance. In these cases it is worth looking to Japan for whom the prevalence of natural disasters such as earthquakes has led to the roll out of a technology that provides disaster proof energy that actually has its origins in the UK.

Fuel cells were first developed by William Grove in London in 1838. Since then the technology has been used for applications ranging from space stations to mobile phone chargers. One of the most common uses today is to provide a secure and sustainable power source for buildings. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Japan where energy resilience is threatened by the tectonic activity in the region. There are currently over 150,000 fuel cells in operation in Japan in homes and businesses across the country.

Fuel cells in the UK have the advantage of not being reliant on grid power but instead take natural gas from the gas grid to generate electricity and heat. The gas grid isn’t vulnerable in the same way to crashing winds and falling trees meaning that in the event of Storm Doris striking back, homes and businesses don’t suffer blackouts.

Climate change adaptation is going to be an important consideration for the UK in the coming years and fuel cells could be an important part of the puzzle as we look to protect ourselves against the storms that lie ahead. They won’t stop us getting wet but they might just keep the lights on!

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