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Updated 23 Apr 2018

Why overconfidence can lead to a missed opportunity for SA fuel cell companies

The competition for fuel cell energy generation is on. Are you in the race or are your competitors leaving you in their wake? 

Nicole Crampton, 16 February 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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The fuel cell development race is on, but South Africa is just one of many countries attempting to viably launch this technology into the mainstream. Analysts believe that local fuel cell technologists have been lulled into a false sense of security because of South Africa’s large platinum reserves (a chief component in fuel cell tech).

If SA fuel cell manufacturers take too much time in developing their technology solutions, they are going to be beaten to market and undercut by other nations around the world. So, in order to guarantee your competitive edge in this field, your fuel cell manufacturing business can take nothing for granted and must push forward to ensure you go to market before the rest of your competitors. 

Related: 4 Kinds of renewable energy solutions to keep the power flowing


4th Energy Wave fuel cell analyst, Kerry-Ann Adamson says: “Just because South Africa has the biggest source of platinum in the world, it shouldn’t lull fuel cell manufacturers into a false sense of security.” She adds that many countries are pursuing fuel cell technology and that South Africa will need to pick-up the pace in order to remain competitive.

If you’ve been lagging behind in terms of development, here are three challenges that manufacturers like you find themselves facing when developing new technologies:

Energy -production -model

1. They adopt a foreign model

Adamson explains that many manufacturing companies have gone bankrupt trying to adopt foreign business models for local circumstances. “Companies need to do their math for their local region, including import duties, insurance, training, infrastructure costs.” Only then can they make a decision on the viability of the endeavour.

Just because a business model worked in another country doesn’t mean it is perfectly suited for South African markets. You shouldn’t look to cut corners by applying a generic approach or business model either as it could lead to your fuel cell manufacturing business’s downfall.

2. They don’t really understand the market

Is there a market for the type of fuel cell technology your manufacturing business is developing? Public Investment Corporation investment project head Monique Mathys-Graaff explains: “You can have the best policies in place, have the greatest technologies, the most brilliant ideas, but if you are unable to demonstrate sustainability, nobody will make money and the industry will not exist.”

Mathys-Graaff continues by saying that there are numerous niche areas that SA fuel cell manufacturers can cover. As an example, your business could supply fuel cells for powering rural areas in Africa.

This fuel energy race is an opportunity for South African manufacturers to expand energy technology availability and create a sustainable, reliable alternative to mainstream energy service providers.

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3. They actually don’t cater to the market

There are multitudes of examples of when a business had a good concept but didn’t package it for the right market and after an almost life-threatening pivot finally found their feet. The benefits of fuel cells are that the technology doesn’t take up as much space as solar or wind energy solutions, but offers the same level of environmentally friendliness.

South Korean conglomerate Doosan’s sales and business development vice president Eric Strayer explains that 400kW fuel cells produce four times less carbon emissions, use 300 times less land and provide six times more energy when compared to various alternatives. This means that not only will there be less emissions and less space taken up with alternative energy, but there will be more energy for those in need.

Is your manufacturing business thinking critically about how to package your fuel cell technologies for particular markets? South Africa’s needs will differ from other African country needs. If you don’t cater to a market’s exact needs, chances are you won’t find support for your products.


  • Previously, manufacturing companies have gone bankrupt when adopting a foreign business model.
  • Experts say that if you are unable to demonstrate sustainable markets for your fuel cell technology, nobody will make money and the industry will not exist.
  • 400kW fuel cells produce four times less carbon emissions, use 300 times less land, and provide six times more energy when compared to its various alternatives like solar and wind. If you package your tech right, you can beat your competitors to market.
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About the author

Nicole Crampton

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