Our fuel cells provide a nice baseload power generation that takes the pressure off the distribution grid to move intermittent power around, and it can help stabilize the distribution grid.
In addition to the South Korea facility, FuelCell Energy also has several innovative grid-tied facilities (about 190 MW installed or on-order) in the U.S. Some of these, like the unit at Sierra Nevada Brewery, operate on anaerobic digester gas. A fuel cell car charging station in California uses FuelCell Energy technology to charge fuel cell vehicles from biogas produced by the nearby sewage treatment plant.
ET: A few of your U.S.-based fuel cell systems use biogas as a fueling source, both in wastewater treatment plants and food processing. What challenges do you encounter in deploying these types of systems, and what needs to be done to expand this market?
TL: When we put a fuel cell at a wastewater treatment plant, we’re going to need to run it on biogas in a flare or burned in an engine because they can turn off those emissions if they need to. Those types of projects tend to be more expensive because, unlike with natural gas, they need to clean the gas before they burn it. But, in many cases, that cost can be offset by incentives, and by the fact that biogas is free.
ET: So, I’m going to end on kind of a theoretical question for you. What does the future of grid power look like to you?
TL: First, the cost of electricity will continue to go up, because demand will start to increase. As we recover from this recessionary period, we are going to bump up against the problem that we have built no new generation. Nuclear power is out of the question in most parts of the world, and most other large generation facilities run into NIMBY issues. Distributed generation offers a way around that. We see two markets for this technology: first, the natural gas-powered market, which uses low-carbon and low-emission natural gas.
Like the Korea plant, these have the potential to use on-site CHP. The other segment is the renewable segment, including wastewater treatment, food processors, landfill gas, agricultural waste, etc. Both of these markets are growing, but the large grid-connected market is growing fastest, just because of the scale.
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