In this paper, a fuel cell power generation system fed by hydrogen is analyzed by different performance criteria over the entire range of potential operating conditions. First law efficiency and net power output are considered for conventional energetic indices of performance, and exergy destruction rate is taken into consideration as an exergetic performance criteria. A new exergetic criterion called the exergetic performance coefficient (EPC) is introduced and is applied to the system model based on zero-dimensional approach. The system model consists of the following components: fuel cell stack, afterburner, fuel and air compressors, and heat exchangers. The effects of the operating conditions on the system performance are studied parametrically. The obtained results based on the exergetic performance coefficient criterion are compared with first law efficiency, power output and exergy destruction rate. Results show that design insights of fuel cell systems can be considerably improved when conventional energetic analyses are supplemented with EPC criterion. (C) 2007 International Association for Hydrogen Energy. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.