Application of Fuel Cell Backup Power System for Grid-Service and Micro-Grid

Z. Ma, J. Eichman, J. Kurtz
National Renewable Energy Laboratory,
United States

Keywords: fuel cell, backup power, micro grid


Clean and efficient fuel cell power systems have shown great potentials as an alternative power supply technology for distributed energy resource (DER) needs. They are especially attractive for telecommunications companies that want to avoid prolonged power outages and disruption of service to their customers. Backup power solutions using fuel cell system technologies offer improved network reliability, environmental benefit, and cost-effective operation over incumbent methods such as diesel backup power. According to a 2013 cost of ownership analysis, fuel cell systems could be cost competitive with incumbent backup power technologies, especially with incentives. Current deployment is for emergency backup power only. The grid is fairly reliable if there are no natural disasters, so the backup systems are idle in most of time and under-utilized. Therefore, integrating under-utilized, efficient, and reliable fuel cell systems already installed in the U.S. for grid services can provide additional economic benefits for system owners and utilities. The objective of this work is to study the approach to increase the utilization of installed fuel cell backup power systems. Furthermore, we evaluated the possibility of a microgrid using hydrogen fuel cells and a network of fuel cell backup power systems to implement information and energy flow for potential grid service, which could add a revenue stream for alternative use of the backup power. We first investigated the regional cell tower locations and needs, including hydrogen availability. Then we investigated the conditions and the niche market with extended capabilities to expand the fuel cell backup power usage and lower cost through demand response or other grid ancillary services.