California Gets MW-Class Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plant

Issue 11 and Volume 110.

California has its first megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell cogeneration plant. The fuel cell plant transforms hydrogen from natural gas into electricity and water without combustion and captures waste heat to improve efficiency. The fuel cell plant will provide half of a prison facility’s annual power needs and reduce annual power costs by $260,000.

The 1 MW plant, manufactured by FuelCell Energy, is Alameda County’s latest accomplishment in its Climate Change Leadership Strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Power from the new unit, along with the Santa Rita jail’s previously-installed 1.2 MW solar power array and energy efficiency upgrades, will shrink power purchases by as much as 80 percent during the peak-demand summer months, when California’s power grid often experiences capacity constraints. This lower demand will eliminate more than 3,200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, equivalent to planting more than 900 acres of trees.

Fuel cells are an especially good fit used in combination with solar arrays since the solar systems take up such large amounts of space in relation to energy produced and only produce power during sunny hours. The project was engineered and installed at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail by Chevron Energy Solutions.

The 1 MW fuel cell plant at Alameda County’s jail backs up to the prison kitchen. Courtesy of FuelCell Energy Click here to enlarge image

The total $6.1 million project cost was supported by $2.4 million in grants and incentives. This includes $1.4 million from Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s self-generation incentive program and $1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense Climate Change Fuel Cell Program. Of the remaining $3.7 million, $2.8 million was financed through a California Energy Commission Energy Partnership Program Loan. The remainder is funded by the project’s energy cost savings under a performance contract with Chevron Energy Solutions and FuelCell Energy.

Chevron Energy Solutions, which develops energy efficiency and alternative power projects, has installed fuel cell plants for other institutions and businesses, including the U.S. Postal Service. FuelCell Energy currently services 45 fuel cell power plants globally and conducts research and development on next-generation fuel cell technology.