O&M

Co-Ops in Northwest Testing Traveling Fuel Cells

Issue 2 and Volume 106.

A three kW fuel cell is touring electric co-ops in the Pacific Northwest, spending six to eight weeks at each company headquarters and supplying power to office and shop areas including sophisticated electronic equipment. When combined with its battery system, the cell can deliver up to 10 kW. The testing will determine how well the units hold up to the wear and tear of frequent relocation, and how they function under various applications and loads.

The test is being conducted by Portland, Ore.-based PNGC Power, a private energy services cooperative and power marketer serving 15 member utilities and other clients in the area. The electric load placed on the fuel cell will replicate as closely as possible the load profile of residential consumers. One of the member systems, Central Electric Cooperative in Redmond, Ore., has received its own unit to test.

Oregon-based IdaTech, owned by Idaho Power Company, manufactured both fuel cell units. The testing is being done with Bonneville Power Administration, which chose PNGC Power because of its avowed enthusiasm to be an active participant in distributed power. PNGC Power is also testing a 60 kW Capstone microturbine for Bonneville.


Warren Ewing of IdaTech (left) and Roger Manke of PNGC Power with the traveling IdaTech fuel cell in the Lane Electric Cooperative office in Eugene, Ore. Photo courtesy of PNGC Power
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“Fuel cells have the potential to help our members meet their customers’ needs – particularly in the deregulated market – possibly helping customers reduce energy costs,” says Kevin Watkins, PNGC Power vice president of engineering. “PNGC Power has an interest in DG technologies because some of our service area is remote and difficult to serve. Consequently, DG technologies may offer some significant economic advantage and increased reliability to remote loads.”

He believes fuel cells will offer a practical option for customers, and may save them considerable money in the long run. For example, by using fuel cells to power remote facilities and outbuildings, the need to build additional power lines could be avoided, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

PNCG’ Power’s fuel cells are powered by methanol. “This liquid fuel allows for a relatively straightforward extraction of hydrogen,” says Watkins. The methanol is located in a 350-gallon tote attached to the power package. Also included is a power management module that converts direct current to alternating current and matches the AC output to the electrical load. This is accomplished by regulating the DC output of the fuel cell and either charging or discharging some associated batteries as needed.

Warren Ewing of IdaTech (left) and Roger Manke of PNGC Power with the traveling IdaTech fuel cell in the Lane Electric Cooperative office in Eugene, Ore. Photo courtesy of PNGC Power