Remember fuel cells? Not so long ago, they seemed on the brink of revolutionizing our energy industry, promising to create a “hydrogen economy.” Fuel cell technology broke into the mainstream when it was implemented in buses in the 90s, but the momentum then seemed to fizzle due to their prohibitive costs.
Now, fuel cells are making a comeback—and in a big way. This time around, they’re finding applications in commercial buildings, manufacturing, data centers, and even homes. Offering low-cost energy, high availability power, and lower carbon emissions, stationary fuel cells are proving to be a highly cost effective alternative energy option for business- and home-owners alike.
Developments in Fuel Cell Technology
This is in part due to innovations in hydrogen generator technology, which have allowed widely available fuels like natural gas and methane to be converted into hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells. Hydrogen ions are split from other elements in these gases and fed into a fuel cell stack. There, they react with oxygen in an electrochemical process that produces electricity, heat, and water.
ClearEdge Power is one of the pioneering natural gas fuel cell companies and has turned this technology into a highly scalable product that can be used in a variety of applications, ranging from homes to data centers. ClearEdge’s fuel cell systems can provide from 5kW to 200kW, making them incredibly versatile and ideal for distributed generation purposes.
They recently signed a landmark $500m deal (the biggest of its kind to date) with an Austrian utility that plans to use them in an extensive distributed heat and power community application.
Fuel Cell Applications
Most fuel cell companies exclusively offer commercial fuel cell solutions that are best suited for energy intensive purposes. Yet thanks to the scalability of ClearEdge’s fuel cell technology, they are now being installed in homes as well, particularly in places where energy costs are high like California, New York, and Connecticut.
While solar panels long seemed the only possibility for homeowners looking to reduce their utility bills, increasingly, residential fuel cell systems are becoming a viable option. Payback periods can be as short as 4 years, according to the company’s website, offering an incredible ROI over the 20-year expected lifespan of the units.