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International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies Advance Access published March 5, 2014

Energy savings analysis of fuel-cell microgeneration systems with ground source heat pumps in load-sharing buildings
Soolyeon Cho1, Eun Chul Kang2 and Euy Joon Lee2* 1 North Carolina State University, 50 Pullen Rd., Campus Box 7701, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA; 2Korea Institute of Energy Research, 102 Gajeong-ro, Yuseong-gu, Daejon 305-343, Republic of Korea



This paper presents the potential energy savings of implementing a combination of fuel-cell microgeneration (FCMG) systems and ground source heat pump (GSHP) systems in load-sharing buildings. The energy modeling and simulation technology is used to evaluate the effectiveness of FCMG systems in buildings. There are a number of simulation programs to evaluate the performance of buildings with various electric, mechanical and thermal systems. However, it is still a challenge to model and simulate the FCMG systems using the existing whole-building simulation programs. This paper first overviews the current technology of simulation modeling of FCMG, and then presents the results of energy savings analyses obtained from the FCMG systems.

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Keywords: fuel cell; microgeneration; energy modeling; simulation; EnergyPlus

* Corresponding author:

Received 13 July 2013; revised 24 November 2013; accepted 16 January 2014


Buildings are the largest consumer of resources in the USA. The building sector consumes about 40% of primary energy and 70% of electricity, which is more energy consumption than either industrial or transportation sector [1]. Both residential and commercial building energy consumptions are consistently growing. Knowing this fact, the building practitioners are constantly trying to develop more energy efficient buildings while maintaining and/or improving the human comfort at the same time. As specific responses, there are initiatives and challenges that have been set by both private and public sectors such as Architecture 2030 Challenge [2] and 2025 Commercial Buildings Initiative [3]. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has come up with the Net-Zero Commercial Building Initiative (CBI), which strives to develop Net-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) for commercial buildings by the year 2025. While USDOEs 2025 NZEB Initiative is driven by a public sector, the Architecture 2030 Challenge is from a private sector initiated by Edward Mazria and his organization known as Architecture 2030 [2]. Its target is Carbon-Neutral buildings by 2030. To achieve either carbon-

neutral buildings by 2030 or NZEBs by 2025, two major activities are outstanding, which are energy efficiency and renewable energy. As part of specific systems level energy efficiency improvement efforts, decentralized cogeneration systems are an attractive alternative to traditional electrical supply. The cogeneration systems can achieve overall efficiencies . 90%, including both electricity and thermal energy generations, based on the lower heating value by exploiting the simultaneous electric and thermal output of cogeneration devices [4]. The electrical efficiencies of the state-of-the-art fossil-fuel-fired central power plants can be achieved about 55% [5, 6]. In contrast to the central power plants, the microgeneration systems, known as residential cogeneration as small-scale combined heat and power, have only modest fuel-to-electrical conversion efficiencies about 10 55% [7, 8]. However, it has been shown that the solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technologies have potential to achieve electrical efficiencies as high as 45% [9], although this efficiency level is still hard to realize in actual devices. As a result, utilizing the thermal output of the microgeneration system is the key aspect to achieve the higher overall efficiencies compared with the central power generation technologies.

International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies 2014, 0, 1 7 # The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. doi:10.1093/ijlct/ctu009 1 of 7

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In this study, the SOFC microgeneration system was used in the EnergyPlus whole-building simulation. To achieve the maximum efficiency of the system, the exhaust gas heat is recovered through the gas-to-water heat exchanger to preheat the domestic hot water. The case models include ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) as primary heating and cooling systems in the load-sharing buildings between a residence and an office. This paper presents the energy savings potentials by comparing both load-sharing, GSHPs and SOFC microgeneration systems with the base case or the non-load-sharing case.


Total of six different energy simulation modeling scenarios were developed. Table 1 summarizes the six modeling cases along with the heating and cooling system types for individual scenarios. The results of these studies (Case 1 through Case 4) were published elsewhere [10, 11]. Case 5 replaces the chiller/boiler systems with GSHPs. The GSHPs provide heating and cooling to both house and office at the same time. The final scenario, Case 6, includes FCMG systems on top of GSHPs to see the potential benefits of SOFC systems in the load-sharing buildings.

Figure 1. Load-sharing HV AC systems with GSHPs including vertical boreholes.

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2.1 Case 5 and Case 6

The GSHPs of Case 5 are water-to-water systems, so that the fan coil units stay the same receiving chilled water and hot water from the GSHPs. As shown in Figure 1, vertical ground loops are included to utilize the geothermal energy for the heat pump systems, which improve the heat pump system efficiencies substantially. A SOFC microgeneration system (Case 6) is integrated along with the GSHP system. This hybrid system provides both electricity and thermal energy to house and office at the same time. The water-to-water heat pump has the COPs of 3.6 for heating and 5.8 for cooling. The circulating pumps are operated with variable speeds for chilled water and hot water; however, the condenser water or ground loop pump is operated in a constant speed. The ground loop is designed with five vertical boreholes with the depth of 76.2 m each. Figure 2 is a diagram of the typical fuel cell (FC) subsystems. It describes the FCMG system into groupings of components that include major subsystems for power production, air/water/ fuel supplies and heat recovery. The auxiliary heater in the
Table 1. Six case scenarios and heating/cooling system types.
Scenario Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Case 4 Case 5 Case 6 Cooling Chiller fan coil Chiller fan coil Case 1 Case 2 Chiller fan coil GSHP fan coil FCMG GSHP fan coil Heating Boiler fan coil Boiler fan coil Case 1 Case 2 Boiler fan coil GSHP fan coil FCMG GSHP fan coil Remarks House only Office only Simple sum Load-sharing Load-sharing w/ GSHP Load-sharing w/ GSHP and FCMG

Figure 2. Fuel cell subsystems.

diagram is only to show the capability of meeting much higher thermal loads than would be possible using only cogeneration. This modeling function was not used in this study because it is not yet available in the EnergyPlus program. The product gas from the power module goes through a gas-to-water heat exchanger. The sensible heat of the product gas is recovered by the heat recovery water. The preheated water is then used for the DHW heating. The system has only 1 kW capacity providing less than minimum consistent electric and thermal loads of the loadsharing buildings. Consequently, the thermal output is not much significant, which covers mostly DHW loads year round. The space heating is provided by the GSHP system in the winter. The FC operation is quite straightforward that it meets the consistent electric loads from the building and the base thermal loads from the DHW system.

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Energy savings analysis of FCMG systems with GSHP


The whole-building energy simulation program, EnergyPlus, was used for this study [12]. EnergyPlus is one of the most advanced building energy simulation programs developed by the United States Department of Energy (USDOE), which has greater capabilities with modular structures compared with other similar thermal simulation programs [13]. The EnergyPlus program was utilized as it is a heat balance-based simulation program, and the heat balance method is the current industry standard method for calculating the space thermal loads [14]. EnergyPlus is one of the five simulation platforms that have been tested using the IEA/ECBCS Annex 42 SOFC cogeneration models, along with ESP-r [15], EES [16], IDA-ICE [17] and TRNSYS [18]. The mathematical model of the program was validated through interprogram comparative testing [19]. EnergyPlus includes both SOFC and PEMFC models. The SOFC model was used in this study.

(CBECS) report was referenced [21]. The CBECS report includes the summary of energy uses for several different categories such as types of uses, sizes, geographical locations, years built, climate zones and others. Considering the climate condition (Seoul or ICN), type of use (Office) and size (200 m2), a new reference was developed based on the CBECS report. The total EUI of the office building is 294 kWh/m2-year.


For the house and office cases, basic simulation input parameters are shown in Table 2. The thermal performance values of the envelope materials were obtained from the minimum requirement of ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 for Zone-4A. The State of Virginia and Washington DC in the USA are located in this climate zone. The city of Seoul in South Korea shows similar climate conditions to this. So, these input values were used for the development of the simulation models.

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This study is based on the weather condition of the nations capital, Seoul, South Korea. However, the Incheon International Airport (ICN) weather file was used as the EnergyPlus Weather (EPW) file is available for ICN [20]. This weather file includes 30-year typical hourly weather conditions for energy calculations. The annual average outdoor dry bulb temperature is 128C, and the maximum global horizontal solar radiation occurs historically in April with about 600 W/m2, but the highest average daily total occurs in June with 4675 Wh/m2.


The EnergyPlus program includes the water source heat pump with a ground loop heat exchanger in the whole-building annual energy simulation. The water-to-water heat pump model was developed in 2002 by Jin and Spitler [22]. This program also uses the short time-step G-function model developed in 1999 by Yavuzturk and Spitler [23, 24] as the ground heat exchanger model. The operation of this model was verified by comparing results to analytical values [25]. The water-to-air heat pump model is also developed and used for the modeling of GSHP in residential and commercial buildings. In this study, the water-to-water heat pump system with vertical borehole ground heat exchanger was used. EnergyPlus provides two options for ground loop heat exchanger (GLHE) modeling, i.e. Equation Fit
Table 2. Simulation input parameters.
Geometry Roof Wall Door Window Window SHGC House floor Office floor HV AC controls Thermostat setpoints Air supply temperature Water supply temperature Fan and motor efficiencies Type Metal Metal Swinging Metal All windows Slab-on-grade Slab-on-grade Type Cooling Heating Cooling Heating Chilled water Hot water Fan Motor Values 0.3691 W/m2-K 0.6416 W/m2-K 3.9746 W/m2-K 3.1229 W/m2-K 40% 0.934 W/m-K 1.263 W/m-K Input values 25.58C w/ setback of 29.58C 20.08C w/ setback of 15.58C 18.38C 38.08C 7.28C 82.28C 65% 90%


The house simulation model consists of a square-shaped, 200 m2 house in Korea. It includes four exterior zones and one interior zone. The four exterior zones are all identical in shape and size (43.75 m2) with the perimeter zone depth of 4.57 m. Consequently, the interior zone was sized to 25 m2, which is isolated from the outdoor weather variations. This is one-story building with window-to-wall ratio of 40% for all facades. The floor-to-floor height is 3.0 m with the return air plenum height of 0.3 m, which results in the floor-to-ceiling height of 2.7 m. This geometry is equally used for the office case. The energy simulation model for this prototype house was developed based on the typical Korean house energy use. A typical Korean houses annual Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is 204 kWh/m2-year. The office simulation model has the same geometry with the house model. To develop the energy simulation model of this office building, the USAs Energy Information Administrations (EIAs) Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey

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and Parameter Estimation. The Equation Fit option was used as it is a simple curve-fit model and requires coefficients generated from the heat pump catalog data. It resembles a black box with no usage of heat transfer equations. The rated coefficient of performance (COP) of heating is 3.6 with heating capacity of 35 kWt. The rated cooling COP is 5.8 with the cooling capacity of 17.6 kWt. There are five vertical boreholes installed with the length of 76.2 m. The thermal conductivity of soil is 2.7 W/m-K and soil heat capacity of 2347 kJ/ m2-K. The undisturbed ground temperature value is 13.38C.

Table 3. Energy use comparison between Case 3 and Case 4.

Energy use category Case 3 Use (kwh/year) 39 320 5637 16 438 15 405 5243 48 8823 90 914 EUI (kwh/m2-year) 98 14 41 39 13 0.120 22 227 Case 4 Use (kwh/year) 38 362 5173 16 438 15 405 4938 47 8098 88 462 EUI (kwh/m2-year) 96 13 41 39 12 0.118 20 221


8.1 Fuel Cell Simulation Modeling in EnergyPlus
The EnergyPlus simulation program includes the function (or simulation module) to model small FC generators. The FC simulation model was developed by IEA/ECBEC Annex 42 for EnergyPlus. However, due to the systems complexity and the difficulties of obtaining the input data, the EnergyPlus FC simulation model is intended to be used primarily for research purposes at this time. Input data for specific FC models are not yet available, but will be developed by IEA Annex 54 in the near future. The FC models can be used to examine the comparative effects from interactions within building systems. The FC model of EnergyPlus mainly consists of three groups of subsystems, i.e., input systems, output systems and power module. The input subsystems are air supply, fuel supply and water supply, which are the supplies for the power module. The output subsystems are divided into two areas such as electricity generation and heat recovery, as shown in Figure 2. The electricity output from the power module goes through inverter for the production of alternate current (AC). The exhaust gas from the power module passes through the gas-to-water heat exchanger before it is exhausted from the system. The FC power module is the core subsystem of the model, which includes a number of components such as FC stack, heaters, reformers, combustor and controller.

Heating Cooling Lighting Equip Fans Pumps DHW Total end use

Table 3 compares the energy consumptions between Case 3 (simple sum of Case 1 house and Case 2 office) and Case 4 (load-sharing). The total Energy Use Index (EUI) of Case 4 is 221 kWh/m2-year, which is 2.7% lower than the EUI of Case 3 or 227 kWh/m2-year. In other words, the load-sharing case achieved the total energy savings of 2.7%. The energy savings were mainly from the heating energy consumption reductions. The main reasons of these energy savings were due to the improved part load ratios, improved equipment efficiencies and reduced heat losses.
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In Case 5, the chiller and boiler systems were replaced with the GSHP system. As expected, the energy savings were substantial. Figure 3 shows the energy consumption changes and energy savings between Case 1 through Case 5. Figure 3a and b depicts the heating and cooling energy consumption changes. The heating energy significantly dropped in Case 5 from Case 4, which is due to the high performance of the heat pump system using the geothermal heat source. Compared with that, the cooling energy consumption reduced , 10%. Figure 3c shows more details for individual areas in HV AC. Overall, as shown in Figure 3d, the total EUI has changed from 141.5 to 79.6 kWh/ m2-year, which is 46% energy savings in Case 5 with GSHP compared with Case 3, as shown in Figure 3f. Figure 3e clearly shows that the heating energy saving was the highest as 54.5%. The cooling energy saving was about 15% compared with Case 3 or simple sum of Case 1 and Case 2 Table 4 shows and compares the details of the energy consumption for the six scenario cases. The total energy savings from the load-sharing technology were 2.7% compared with the base case or Case 3 where the two buildings (house and office) energy uses were simply summed. A huge energy savings were achieved from implementing the GSHP systems in Case 5. In Case 6, the SOFC module consumed the natural gas of 23 053 kWh/year to produce the electricity of 8760 kWh/year. This electricity generated by SOFC MG was subtracted from the total energy consumption of 76 664 kWh/year. As a result, the FCMG implementation in Case 6 saved about 25% compared with the base case, which are about 12% less energy savings than Case 5 did. In this model, the SOFCs thermal efficiency was about 22% with the electrical efficiency of 38%, which resulted in overall efficiency of about 60%. The thermal heat recovered from the microgeneration system in Case 6 was 5077 kWh/year, which was used for DHW heating. This is relatively low. To improve the efficiency, it is required to decrease the water temperature entering the FC unit from hot water tank. In the simulation, this temperature was unavoidably high due to the GSHP operation. It will be necessary to develop better configuration and better control strategies to improve the performance and thermal efficiency of the FCMG system.

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Energy savings analysis of FCMG systems with GSHP

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Figure 3. Comparison of energy consumption for heating (a), cooling (b), HV AC detail (c) and HV AC total (d); and energy savings breakdown (e) and total energy savings (f ).

Table 4. Comparison of energy consumption for six simulation scenarios.

Energy use category Energy use comparison (kWh/year) Case 1 (house) Heating (space and DHW) Natural gas Electricity Electricity 25 789 1306 6705 1501 35 301 Case 2 (office) 22 354 4331 25 137 3789 55 611 Case 3 (Case 1 2) Case 4 (load-sharing) 46 460 5173 31 842 4985 88 460 2452 (2.7) Case 5 (GSHP) 2196 12 777 4791 31 842 5145 56 751 34 161 (37.6) Case 6 (FCMG) 23 053 11 839 4808 31 842 5121 76 664 (8760) 23 008 (25.3)

Space cooling Lights and equipment Fans and pumps Total Electricity production Energy savings (Case 3 baseline)

48 143 5637 31 842 5290 90 912 (kWh/year) (%)

Buildings are the largest energy consumers. Better utilizing the resources is one of the key issues these days. Micro-cogeneration

technology is one of the effective and energy-efficient alternatives to the conventional HV AC systems. This paper presented an example of implementing the FCMG system in a whole-building simulation using EnergyPlus program. Total of six simulation
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modeling scenarios were introduced. The main platform of this study was load-sharing buildings between house and office, both of which show two clearly different load patterns. Combining these two different load patterns provided energy efficiency benefits to the HV AC systems due to the improved part load conditions. Energy savings were conceptually realized from the load-sharing case through simulation processes [10, 11]. GSHP systems showed a great potential for energy savings since this technology utilizes the geothermal energy. The HV AC energy savings were 46.1%, which were due to the utilization of ground thermal energy that contributed to the systems efficiency substantially. FCMG simulation model was developed and analyzed using EnergyPlus simulation program. It showed also a substantial energy savings potential. However, due to the limitations of the FCMG modeling in EnergyPlus, only available functions were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the application to the load-sharing buildings. The overall energy savings of FCMG were 25.3% compared with Case 3. To be conservative in utilizing the electricity and thermal energy recovery of the FCMG system, 1 kW system was used, and so all the electric and thermal energy generated were used to cover the basic and consistent loads of the buildings. In applying the FCMG systems in buildings, it is always necessary to first confirm the consistent electric and thermal (space heating and DHW) loads of a building. This will maximize the use of energy generated by the FCMG systems. For further research and practices, it is also crucial to develop more complete micro-cogeneration simulation modules for simulation programs. Once readily available, both researchers and building practitioners will be able to implement the FCMG technologies in buildings with more confidence, which will result in energy efficiency and carbon reductions.

The authors acknowledge the collaboration and contributions of Drs Evgueniy Entchev, Libing Yang and Mohamed Ghorab at CanmetEnergy National Laboratory of Canada. This work was supported by the International Cooperation of the Korea Institute of Energy Technology Evaluation and Planning (KETEP) grant funded by the Korea Government Ministry of Knowledge Economy (No. 20118520010010).

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