Stationary Fuel Cell Energy: Not Standing Still

Two billion kilowatt-hours. Is that a lot of electricity? FuelCell Energy, a maker of fuel-cell power plants, thinks it is.

The company began installing Direct FuelCell stationary power plants in 2003. Today there are more than 110 operating around the world, and after doing a lot of math the company has announced that those plants have hit the 2 billion kilowatt-hour mark in electrical generation.

stationary fuel cells

A 10.4-MW fuel cell plant (image via FuelCell Energy)

Now, the U.S. generated 4,054 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year alone, so FuelCell Energy’s lifetime is equal to just .05 percent of this country’s more or less current needs. But the company says it’s the pace of growth that’s the important thing to look at, and it has some solid numbers to back up that argument.

“We installed our first commercial fuel cell plant in 2003 and announced one billion kilowatt hours of ultra-clean power production in January 2011, which is a time span of eight years,” Chip Bottone, CEO and president, said in a statement. “We generated the second billion kilowatt hours in just under two years and the next billion is expected to be generated in less than one year.”

Bottone pointed to a couple of big power plants on their way. On is a 14.9 megawatt project in Bridgeport, Connecticut. That’s a project that the big energy company Dominion acquired from FuelCell Energy last December. FuelCell Energy is building and will operate and maintain the facility, and it is said to be near completion.

That will be the biggest such project in North America, but even bigger is a South Korean project FuelCell Energy is in on. That’s a 58.8-MW fuel cell power plant in Whasung city. Posco Energy is the firm behind the construction, building the plant “based on designs and fuel cell components from FuelCell Energy.”

Stationary fuel cell projects are expensive up front and like a lot of renewables rely on government inducement to be built – but even using natural gas, can be very efficient, using up to 80% of the fuel energy, compared to the 45% to 50% combined overall efficiency of using electricity from coal or natural gas plants and thermal energy from on-site natural-gas combustion,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy [PDF]. And the low price of natural gas has helped make them increasingly competitive.

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.