By Mark Luth
In developed countries around the world, the power we use each day is generated by a network of technologies including hydropower, coal burning, nuclear energy, natural gas, photovoltaics, wind power … and, more recently, fuel cells. Continuing our survey of the growing deployment of fuel cells across various sectors, corporate customers are continuing to install fuel cells for the purpose of clean, reliable power generation. Fuel cells address several needs in the power generation sphere, with the capacity to scale from individual units to megawatt (MW)-scale installations. Whether fueled by natural gas, biogas, or hydrogen, the power generation technology reduces emissions when compared with coal and other traditional fuels. It also provides a resilient source of energy that keeps critical facilities and infrastructure, such as hospitals and data centers running around the clock. Additionally, the units take up a relatively small amount of space, which allows for integration with urban facilities that may not have tremendous amounts of space available.
Agilent Technologies announced in April the installation of Bloom Energy Servers from FCHEA member Bloom Energy at its headquarters in California and an additional office space in Delaware. The installation is capable of producing 3.5 MW of power between the two locations, offsetting around 5,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. Agilent is among the companies moving to fuel cell solutions based on a commitment to sustainability, while others make the jump due in part to concerns about grid vulnerability.
The reliability and efficiency that draws corporate actors to install fuel cells is also highly desirable for elements of the public sector, specifically the military. As federal agencies adjust to a changing global energy environment, fuel cells provide a resilient transition toward cleaner, more efficient energy that can be installed on military bases. FCHEA member FuelCell Energy is currently constructing a 7.4 MW power plant at the US Navy Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut, which will provide power to the base and the local utilities. Scheduled to begin operation in March 2020, the microgrid aims to reduce energy costs for the base and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, while increasing reliability.
Partners HealthCare, which operates hospitals in Massachusetts, deployed 4.1 MW of Bloom Energy Servers across several locations, including its headquarters and several clinics and hospitals. The company states that Bloom’s fuel cells make efficient use of space, important in the dense urban locations that Partners primarily operates. A key factor for the healthcare provider was the reliability of Bloom’s products, with Massachusetts experiencing more than 100 outages in 2017 amid a trend of increasing blackouts across the region.
The reliability of stationary fuel cells is a major reason why manufacturers like JSR Micro, a manufacturer of electronics components and materials, have turned to Bloom Energy to create microgrids as backup power supplies. In the case of JSR Micro, the fuel cell infrastructure will provide a baseload of constant power with supplemental amounts coming from the larger grid. Due to increasing rates of blackouts in California, based on weather and other factors, decentralizing their power supply appealed to the company because high-tech manufacturing requires a steady stream of power with no risk of loss.
Stanley Black & Decker
An additional area where corporate interest is turning to fuel cells as a reliable and constant source of power is for datacenters. With the digital economy growing quickly, the demand for large data centers simultaneously increases. Data centers require vast amounts of electricity that is consistent, which is perfect for fuel cells. FCHEA member Doosan has partnered with Stanley Black & Decker to provide fuel cells to power a massive data center and office park that is being constructed in New Britain, Connecticut. The initial stage of the project calls for nearly 20 MW of power, with plans for the final completion to reach as high as 44 MW.
With prior fuel cell installations at major technology players such as Google, IBM, Apple, and Microsoft, data centers look to be a prime commercialization opportunity for fuel cell companies. For more specifics on why data centers and fuel cells partner well, check out our previous blog post on the topic.
The Ratkovich Group
Reliability will also play a role at the Alhambra, a mixed use campus developed in Los Angeles by the Ratkovich Group. The primary goal for the developers in installing Bloom Energy Servers is to increase the sustainability and energy efficiency of the area. The installation will provide up to 1 MW of power to the 40-acre campus, enough to meet the majority of its power demand.
Daesan Green Energy
Local and backup generation are not the only possibilities for fuel cell power. Doosan has been working with Daesan Green Energy in South Korea to develop and construct the first large-scale fuel cell power plant. The new power plant will generate 50 MW of electricity, powering 160,000 local homes annually. This is the first attempt to commercialize fuel cell power generation at this scale, moving from powering individual facilities to a larger area and grid-scale requirements.
As both a primary and backup source of power, stationary fuel cells provide private and public sector customers reliability and clean energy. With many companies demonstrating the benefits that these units bring to various operations, the momentum in this sector can propel further installations and increase the benefits seen from deploying stationary fuel cells.