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Proposed Testing Methodology and Laboratory Facilities for Evaluating Residential Fuel Cell Systems



Mark W. Davis, Arthur H. Fanney


Fuel cells are emerging as one of the most promising technologies for meeting the nation s energy needs. Fuel cell efficiencies, approaching 60 percent, are nearly twice as efficient as conventional power plants. Fuel cells are environmentally clean and emit almost none of the sulfur and nitrogen released by conventional generating methods. In addition to electricity generation, waste heat from residential fuel cells can be captured to provide space or water heating, further increasing the overall efficiency. Manufacturers of fuel cell technologies predict that residential fuel cell units will be on the market within the next two years. One manufacturer, Plug Power, is currently beta testing approximately 40 residential fuel cell units.Currently, standards for fuel cells are being developed by ASME, ANSI, NFPA, and other standards organizations. The ANSI and NFPA standards address the safe operation, construction, installation, and acceptable performance of all fuel cell units. The ASME standard seeks to rate the performance of a wide range of fuel cell types and sizes. This is done at a single, steady-state point of operation, which will not accurately reflect the performance of a fuel cell unit in a residential setting. The electrical load of a residence is transient in nature. Additionally, if the fuel cell unit is providing a portion of the space or water-heating load, the flow rate and temperature of the water being supplied to the fuel cell will vary. A method of test and accompanying rating methodology to accurately capture the overall performance of residential fuel cell units will provide prospective owners with the information needed to make informed selections.The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will develop a test method and rating methodology that will capture the overall performance of a residential fuel cell system in the same manner that methods of tests exist for heat pumps, gas furnaces, water heaters, and other household appliances. The test method will take into account any inefficiencies associated with the fuel cell stack and reformer; the conversion efficiency of the inverter; and any useful water or space heating contributions. The test method will identify and specify environmental and electrical load parameters that may affect performance, as well as the effect of transient loads on the system performance. Finally, rating methodologies will be developed that allow the annual performance of a residential fuel cell unit to be determined under representative load and climatic conditions for a geographical location.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6848
Report Number


fuel cells, laboratory facilities, rating methodology, residential, test procedure


Davis, M. and Fanney, A. (2002), Proposed Testing Methodology and Laboratory Facilities for Evaluating Residential Fuel Cell Systems, NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed June 14, 2024)


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Created January 1, 2002, Updated November 10, 2018