October 28, 2015

Fuel Cell Case Studies Highlight Clean Resilient Power Technology

By Sarah Galbraith

With extreme weather getting both more frequent and more severe, resilient power has never been more important. Four new case studies, authored by the Clean Energy Group with support from the Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster (www.neesc.org), showcase fuel cells in resilient power systems.

Last month, Slate Magazine published an article about the record-setting hurricanes we’ve already seen this season, happening in a year already on pace to be the hottest on record. A new study also suggests that storms will become increasingly frequent and stronger than anything we’ve seen before.

Recent history has demonstrated the impact of these types of natural disasters, so that part isn’t hard to predict: Millions of people will lose power, critical facilities like first responders and hospitals will run on faulty back-up power, and mobile communications will be lost, leaving some without access to emergency 9-1-1 services.

But our experience of these past storms has offered some glimmers of hope: Some communities and buildings were set up to weather an extended power outage. These places have the capability of generating their own clean energy while being separated from the power grid; during grid outages, they are able to supply electricity for critical services. In the years after these major weather events, like Hurricane Sandy, many other building owners and communities have installed similar resilient power systems.

The New York City Police Department, for example, installed a fuel cell in its Central Park Precinct and during the Blackout of 2003 was able to continue operations seamlessly at a time when emergency first responders were greatly needed. A fuel cell at South Windsor High School in Connecticut allowed the school to serve as an emergency public shelter when a snowstorm knocked out power for as many as 11 days in parts of the state. During the storm the school provided showers, warm meals, outlets, a nurse’s station, and a place to sleep for 600 people. Several hospitals in Connecticut have also installed fuel cells to support critical energy loads when the grid goes down, like respirators, operating rooms, and refrigeration for medicines. Cell phone towers have also used fuel cells to provide mobile communications services during power outages, which help to support access to emergency 9-1-1 services.

In addition to providing power during emergencies, these fuel cells run throughout the year, saving thousands of dollars on energy costs and reducing emissions of critical air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

A recent webinar hosted by Clean Energy Group, called “Fuel Cells for Educational Facilities,” provided an overview of the technology for resilient power systems. As part of the Resilient Power Project at Clean Energy Group, this webinar and case study series work in combination to demonstrate a readily-accessible technology option for communities looking to weather the next big storm.

The fuel cells for resilient power case study series is available here.

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