Herb Healy of United Technologies’ Power division came to speak to us this morning on the current state of fuel cell technology, deployments and the Long Island fuel cell picture. As every LIMBA meeting is, this was another learning experience. UTP has several varieties of power generation technologies in a few different packages, one, a complete power, heating, and cooling plant, another is a waste heat recovery-to-electricity device, and the third is a straightforward fuel cell, with natural gas in, and 480 Volt, three-phase power out.
We learned that economically practical residential fuel cells are pretty far off, due to the nature of fuel cell load characteristics. A fuel cell capable of providing the peak power needs of a single family home on long island, is just too large and expensive right now. What large fuel cells are good at is producing clean power for firms that need or want to have independence from the electrical grid, or that have a potential fuel source to recover revenue from. A landfill or farm that is producing methane gas can collect this gas, “burn” it in the fuel cell in batches, use the electricity or sell it. A hospital can use it for power insurance, heating and cooling.
The Long Island fuel cell scene is currently highlighted by two projects, one in West Babylon, where LIPA is entertaining proposals to replace the existing fuel cells in its substation there, and at a Verizon facility in Garden City, where a 7 unit, 1.4 Megawatt installation is coming on line in the very near future. This facility is the largest North American fuel cell plant to date. UTP’s proposal submitted for the LIPA project will generate around 11 Megawatts if accepted.
The Q & A session demonstrated that folks were paying attention, to both the technology and numbers involved. My question was concerning repowering Long Island, where do fuel cells fit, and the answer seems to be that fuel cells are a base load contributor, in small increments. I would see their primary benefit in being clean power for facilities that would be essential to social function in the event of a large power outage. A quick lesson on how a fuel cell works was also included for those members that aren’t tech heads.