Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The PV-Fuel Cell Connection

What I've been saying all along...using solar 24/7 down the road.
Apple is building a 20MW solar system in North Carolina. As of now, it will sell the electricity it produces to Duke Energy. However, they also just announced a plan to build a 4.8MW fuel cell facility that will generate electricity from hydrogen that is converted from purchased natural gas. Other options include buying natural gas from a landfill, or some other biogas producer.
There will eventually be one more link in this system down the road, and that is the technology to produce hydrogen from water using electrolysis (or some other new process) from electricity. If their Data Center only uses 4.8MW of electricity, they could use the other 15.2MW of solar to produce hydrogen to run the fuel cells at night . Then, they could be totally self-sufficient 24/7 in electricity for their facility.
We (Humboldt State) did this in 1991. We built a 7kw solar PV system, a part of which provided power for aeration pumps at our Marine Lab. The largest amount of electricity produced during the day went into an electrolyser, which produced Hydrogen and Oxygen (basic 1st chemistry lab experiment in high school), and stored the hydrogen to be used a night...or basically when the sun isn't shining. Our students developed this and installed all the equipment. The first fuel cell purchased from Teledyne Corporation (I don't know if they are still around) cost $78,000 and was a total failure, so our students designed and built their own! Things have been upgraded over the years, and a lot has been learned. This is still an educational tool and a continuing learning process for over 20 years! The technology has come a long way in efficiency, and most of all, it has come down in cost.
So...where is Bechtel, Martin-Marietta, Lockheed, Duke Energy, Boeing, United Technologies, etc???
The big boys (government included) aren't doing anything because the "super rich" fossil fuel players have/are doing everything in their power (excuse the pun) to keep the renewables from advancing. That's really the bottom line! So it is going to take the "non-players"...Apple, Google, Microsoft (even though they are going down the wrong nuclear path), and other investors who have the vision to see not only the "green" benefit from this, but also the eventual huge amounts of money that can be made.
Georgia Power is sucking $8.5 billion of federal subsidies to build a $24 billion nuclear complex just south of Apple's project.
They boast about having a 28kw solar demonstration project on their corporate rooftop, to study the feasibility of solar energy! Smart. My students started doing this type of research in 1982, resulting in CCAT going off grid a few years later.
So things are moving along...very slowly...but moving along. If this nation were to seriously put forward an energy policy based on renewables, the technological and economic might and the real brainpower we have available to us could speed things up significantly, creating jobs, sustainable and local energy, and a cleaner environment. But as of now, we have to deal with all the lies, ignorance, propaganda, and downright greed that is holding us back.
Instead of paying wind power producers to not generate electricity when it is not needed, those turbines could produce hydrogen, which can be stored, and used in fuel cells when the electricity demand calls for it.

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