Just as Toyota is working to replace the gasoline in its cars with hydrogen fuel cells, Japanese companies are leading the charge to convince homeowners they’re better off using hydrogen to power their lamps and TVs, too. The electricity is generated by so-called energy farms, or ene-farms, about the size of a refrigerator. They’re made by companies such as Panasonic and Toshiba and sold by leading utilities, including Tokyo Gas. Ene-farms dangle the promise that the most abundant element in the universe will offer a safer, cleaner, more efficient alternative to nuclear power or fossil fuels. Because a standard home unit costs about $16,700, most consumers have been hesitant to buy.
Since commercial sales began in 2009, more than 100,000 Japanese households have installed generators that use hydrogen. That’s a long way from where the government wants to be. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a goal of 5.3 million hydrogen-powered homes, roughly 10 percent of Japan’s total, by 2030.