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How Fuel Cells Can Make a More Reliable Power Grid

Thursday, September 24, 2020

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By Yuri Freedman, published in the Los Angeles Daily News: Sept. 19, 2020

Californians deserve a lot of credit for conserving energy through yet another record heatwave during Labor Day weekend. It was a great example of how conservation can reduce demand enough to avoid rolling power outages like those we saw last month.

Back-up generators that run on diesel fuel have also helped address high power demand during California’s heatwaves but at a cost of their negative impact on air quality and the environment. Instead, we need to look toward clean and sustainable technologies that reduce demand on the electric system, while reducing our reliance on burning diesel fuel–especially as we look to a potential future of even more severe heat and wildfires across the West.

Part of the solution means taking advantage of technologies like fuel cells, which generate energy right where it is needed, independent of the power grid.

At SoCalGas, we recently installed natural gas-powered fuel cell systems at two of our largest Los Angeles-area facilities. These facilities are critical to our operations and help us keep natural gas flowing to 22 million Californians. With 950 kilowatts of power between the two systems, these fuel cells replace more than 90 percent of the power that would otherwise have come from the grid. Electricity is produced continuously—so we don’t worry about public safety power shutoffs or emergency rolling outages. We always have reliable power.

Not only are they reliable, but our fuel cells also reduce GHG emissions. How? They make power right where it is used, and they are one of the most efficient power solutions available. Plus, fuel cells don’t burn fuel. Instead, they create electricity through an electrochemical reaction using natural gas and oxygen.

Our new fuel cell systems will reduce GHG emissions by 683 metric tons a year compared to pulling that much power from the grid. That’s like eliminating the annual GHG emissions from using electricity at 112 homes. And because they eliminate combustion-related pollutants, the California Air Resources Board has certified these systems as a Distributed Generation Technology that do not require a generation permit, a designation given only to the cleanest technologies in the state.

Individual homes can also be efficiently powered by fuel cells. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Japanese homes already use them to provide electricity, heat, and hot water in a safe and resilient fashion. These home fuel cells are about the size of a refrigerator and cost about what a rooftop solar system would cost—around $7,500 to $12,000. Japan aims to install more than 5 million residential fuel cells over the next ten years.

Category: Op-Ed, Partner News

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