Verizon Dials In Fuel Cells, Solar For Green, Secure Power

Verizon, which has made news here for its fleet-greening moves, is now taking aim at reducing reliance on the grid at its buildings, corporate offices, call centers, data centers and central offices. The means the company will employ: fuel cells from ClearEdge Power and solar power from SunPower.

Verizon said this week that it will invest $100 million in putting these technologies to work at 19 facilities in seven states. The goal is to produce 70 million kilowatt-hours of clean (or at least cleaner) electricity. For reference, the average U.S. household uses 11,280 kWh in a year, so Verizon’s onsite energy production could match the amount consumed annually by more than 6,000 residences.

verizon fuel cells

Fuel cell aren’t carbon-free power sources, but they are generally much cleaner than the grid, and offer energy security (image via Verizon)

Not only that: The new energy sources could help the company keep its system running during grid failures. The company credited already-operating fuel cells in the Northeast for keeping its systems operating when Hurricane Sandy battered the region last fall.

“This is a natural evolution of our sustainability efforts and of our use of alternative energy to power a variety of our facilities,”James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. “These projects will reduce our carbon footprint, relieve demand on the electrical grid and enhance the resiliency of our proven service continuity – even during outages.”

Verizon also has a goal of cutting its carbon intensity – which the company defines as its carbon emissions produced per terabyte of data flowing through its networks – in half by 2020.

Now, mind you, this energy that Verizon will produce isn’t completely green. The bulk of it — 60 million of the 70 million kWh each year — will come from ClearEdge Power‘s PureCell Model 400 fuel cell systems that will be installed at Verizon sites in California, New Jersey and New York. Those systems run on natural gas. However, because the gas isn’t combusted and the fuel cells are far more efficient than conventional gas-fired generation, they do run relatively very clean. Verizon figures it will cut its carbon emissions by 6,000 metric tons through use of the fuel cells.

We saw eBay put a big dent in its prospective carbon emissions by choosing Bloom Energy fuel cells for a data center expansion in Utah last year. ClearEdge, based in Oregon, is a Bloom competitor, and in February closed on its acquisition of another fuel-cell rival UTC, maker of the PureCell Model 400.

On the solar, Verizon said it wants to do rooftop- and ground-mounted solar PV systems as well as solar parking canopies at its facilities in California,Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona and North Carolina. “The systems, which will generate approximately 8 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, are expected to be completed this year and to reduce Verizon’s annual carbon footprint by more than 5,000 metric tons of CO2,” the company said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.