(3BL Media/Justmeans) - While few were looking, and while there seemed to be little energy news beyond the occasional automotive announcement (which most people dismiss as a futuristic longshot), fuel cells have quietly been finding valuable niches, particularly in the industrial world.
A recent report by the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association says that 9% of Fortune 500 companies and 23% of Fortune 100 companies are using fuel cells in some aspect of their operations. The primary uses are for backup power generation and material handling equipment (MHE). The current market in industrial fuel cells has hit the $2 billion mark with more than 13,500 units deployed.
While one might question the practicality and affordability of using fuel cells for backup power, it turns out that they are well-suited to the role. Companies cite a variety of reasons for using fuel cells for distributed power generation (DG) including:
- An assured, reliable electricity supply
- Better energy management control.
- Clean, renewable energy boosts the company’s image
- DG reduces energy costs
Backup plants can also be used for peak shaving and other demand management schemes. Large electric customers typically pay demand charges that raise costs during periods of high demand. By producing their own power during these periods, industrial customers can save money. Fuel cells tend to have rapid startup times as compared to diesels and are also far cleaner.
Other savings accrue from “cost savings on electricity or fuel purchases; emissions savings from being a more efficient, non-combustion technology; time savings from less maintenance, fewer fuelings and longer run time; and water savings at a time where droughts are hitting some states so hard that restrictions are being imposed on water use.“