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The Surprising Role of Fuel Cells in Today’s Clean Economy

(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.“

Military and Business Leaders Alike Cite Costs and Risks of Climate Change

Conservatives have been reluctant to talk about or acknowledge the actual cause of climate change, because they fear that doing so will lead to action that will cost money. But despite their efforts to cast doubt on the reality of the issue, awareness is steadily  growing that not only is climate change real, but that over time, the cost of not taking action will far exceed the cost of actions being proposed.

Red state politicians and talk radio hosts continue to press the denial agenda, but among the more respected leaders in traditionally conservative areas such as big business and the military, the tone has shifted considerably.

According to the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP), 60 major American companies from Google to Gap, have reported significant impacts to their business as the result of climate change. Business leaders are making strategic investments now, to reduce future risk. Says CDP President Tom Carnac, “Dealing with climate change is now a cost of doing business.”

Large companies with large supply chains are particularly vulnerable. In a new report entitled, “Major Public Companies Describe Climate-related Risks and Costs,” impacts are described confronting ten business sectors ranging from Consumer Discretionary, to Energy, to Industrial, to Health Care.
Over the three year period since the first report was issued, the average likelihood of physical risks, according to the companies responding, grew from 34% to 50%. And the fraction expecting to see impacts within the next 1-5 years also grew from 26% to 45%. Four of the top five assessed physical risk drivers remained the same over the three years. These were:

  • Changes in precipitation extremes and droughts
  • Major storms (hurricanes, cyclones,etc.)
  • Induced changes in natural resources
  • Uncertainty of physical risks

Sea level rise emerged as a top risk driver this year. The top 3 impacts also remained the same. These were:

  • Increased operational cost
  • Reduction/disruption in production capacity
  • Inability to do business

Other impacts included reduced demand for products and services, and increased capital cost.

Some specific examples include soft drink companies like PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group stating concerns over changing temperatures, unreliable crops, uncertain water availability and surging energy costs disrupting business and putting US$2.5 billion of their sales costs at risk.

Data centers are becoming more expensive to cool as temperatures rise.

Exclusive Interview with Kristie Middleton, Humane Society of the United States

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Mother Nature Network's "Leaderboard" features stories of inspiring leaders as well as advertorials from Walmart, which sponsors the site.

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Walmart expands its sustainable energy network.

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