DG Update

Issue 9 and Volume 104.

Steve Blankinship
Associate Editor

One MW Fuel Cell Delivers for Alaskan Post Office

One of the world’s largest, most advanced fuel cell projects is now in operation at a post office in Anchorage, Alaska. Located in Chugach Electric Association’s service territory, the 1 MW array consisting of five 200 kW fuel cells incorporates several operational features developers believe could advance fuel cell applications at the distributed generation level.

Steven Gilbert, Chugach’s lead electrical engineer on the project, terms the plant’s operation a significant milestone in the development of distributed generation resources. Power comes from five phosphoric acid fuel cells operating as a single power plant in parallel with an operating electric grid. The installation is also intended to demonstrate that a multi-unit fuel cell project can be operated as a true utility distributed generation resource via utility SCADA. The plant is controlled from Chugach’s power control center using a high-speed static transfer scheme that separates the fuel cell plant from the grid and carries the customer load during electric grid transients. The system then resynchronizes the grid after it has restabilized. Individual fuel cells can be isolated for maintenance one at a time.

Nitrogen is stored on site to purge the system and the hydrogen cell stack following protective trips and for maintenance shutdowns. Nitrogen is used because it is non-flammable and doesn’t react with any system components.

Hot water from the system is pumped to the post office building’s heating system. The fuel cell installation provides more electricity than the postal facility needs, so excess power flows to the Chugach electric grid.

Co-sponsoring the project with Chugach and the U.S. Postal Service are the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Corp of Engineers, EPRI, and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association.

Microturbine Powers La Quinta

A three-story, 140-room La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel north of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport may be the first hotel in the U.S. to install a microturbine to generate its own electricity. The 75 KW Honeywell microturbine automatically operates when it can generate power for less than the local utility, TXU. TXU Energy Services operates the microturbine via modem during voluntary curtailments. Randy Tipton, director of strategic marketing for TXU Energy Services, estimates La Quinta can save up to $13,000 a year with the system. Jim Ackles, La Quinta’s Director of Energy and Engineering says, “The ability to reduce our load by 50 to 70 percent within minutes is having a positive effect on our bottom line while helping the utility grid during peak use periods.” The Honeywell microturbine also provides backup power in emergencies.

Darwinian DG?

Work by post-doctorate engineer Peter Senecal and fellow engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that something akin to Darwin’s rules of natural selection might help researchers build cleaner, more efficient engines.

Using computer models designed to perform tasks far greater than those required for simulations, they sort through billions of factor combinations affecting engine performance. The computers use genetic algorithms to weed out the best parameters of an initial group, then allow the two “fittest” models to – as the researchers say – “reproduce,” forming a new generation of complete “mutations” that represent marked improvements over the previous generation. The process is repeated until the computer identifies the most “fit” of the group.

Senecal, who created the programs, says the most important advance is improving pollution emissions without sacrificing fuel efficiency and vice versa. He has produced a diesel engine design that reduces NOx emissions three-fold and soot emissions by 50 percent over existing technology. At the same time, it reduces fuel consumption 15 percent. A simulation was then produced using a real diesel engine. “We found that the agreement was excellent between what was measured in the lab engine and what the computer predicted,” says Senecal.

Senecal’s research, funded by Caterpillar, Inc., is being published by The International Journal of Engine Research, and was presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers international meeting this summer in Paris, France.

Arthur D. Little Creates DG Forum

Arthur D. Little has launched an aggressive initiative to promote the potential of distributed generation (DG) as a cost-effective and reliable energy source. DG 2000 will create a forum in which experts from Arthur D. Little, the energy industry, and product commercialization firms exchange information and ideas while expanding the knowledge base and general awareness of DG. Workshops will be conducted with energy regulators and white papers produced on critical DG issues. The program, which began in June, has a dozen entities participating to date.

Little believes that in many U.S. locations, DG can be a commercially viable solution, capable of delivering reliable and high-quality electricity. In instances where power shortages and inconsistencies threaten power quality, the firm believes DG is especially critical to assure the exacting power requirements of customers engaged in high-tech manufacturing and data processing.

Yet despite such promising market indicators, DG’s acceptance is largely dependent upon a clear and effective regulatory policy, according to the firm. Says Stan Blazewicz, Director-in-Charge of DG 2000, “The results of this initiative will contribute to future policy decisions that directly influence the development of DG.”

Briefly Noted

The National Electrical Contractors (NECA) recently released its newest installation standard. NECA/EGSA 404-2000, Recommended Practice for Installing Generator Sets, covers the installation of generators used for on-site power production on commercial or institutional buildings, including emergency applications.

Six industrial research partners will share $40 million of funding from DOE to develop a next generation microturbine system. The funding, extending over five to eight years, goes to Capstone Turbine, General Electric, Northern Research and Engineering, Honeywell, Solar Turbines Inc. and United Technologies.

Renewable energy markets in North America jumped from $204 million in 1998 to $843 million in 1999 according to research published by Frost & Sullivan. The dramatic spurt is attributed to the expected expiration date of federal production tax credit for wind projects, which has since been extended. While the staggering growth rate should slow in the near term, it is expected to resume a rapid pace by 2004, although a repeat of the level of growth seen in of the 1999 is unlikely.

FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Connecticut has broken ground on a new manufacturing facility in Torrington to build direct fuel cell (DFC) power plants. Initially, the facility will produce 250 kW units, with 300 kW units expected in 2002. Eventually, FuelCell Energy plans to produce 1.5 MW and 3 MW units. By 2004, the company expects to be producing 400 MW of fuel cell capacity annually at its Torrington facility.

DTE Energy Technologies has signed agreements with Pratt & Whitney of Canada and The Turbo Genset Co. Ltd. of the U.K. for development of a 400 kW gas turbine generator for distributed generation applications in small-to-medium sized commercial micro-grids serving residential and commercial development projects. The units would be available early in 2002.