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Fuel Cells & Natural Gas: Energy Solutions For the 21st Century

O V ER V IEW

n the United States, nearly half of our electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants. This method of generating electricity is both polluting and inherently inefficient, converting only about a third of potential energy

into usable power. The rest of the energy is lost in the form of excess heat and during the transmission processoften thousands of miles from the

point of generation to the point of use.1

72%
Its no surprise that concern is growing over the long-term environmental, security, and economic risks posed by climate change and an aging and overloaded transmission grid. In addition, there is now a call to begin replacing conventional power generation and grid distribution with cleaner forms of energy and to produce power more closely to where it is consumed.

ElectricitY CONSUmPTION

39%

Overall Energy USe

Where is the Greatest Concentration of Energy Use?


According to the United States Energy Information Administration, buildings account for 72% of electricity consumption, 39% of overall energy use, and 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions2 (See Figure 1.1). Therefore, the structures where people live and work represent the greatest concentration of energy use. If the U.S. is to secure its energy supply, make meaningful emissions reductions, and realize the economic benefits of a low-carbon economy, then it will need solutions that allow owners of residential and commercial buildings to not only become more energy efficient, but also generate some, or all, of the needed electricity and heat onsite.

38%

Overall CO 2 Emissions

Barriers to Clean, Sustainable, and Distributed Power Generation


Despite the widely recognized need for advances in point-of-use energy generation, there are significant barriers to realizing the tremendous potential of these technologies on a scale that provides the needed environmental benefits, while also being economically viable to the end user. Cost and Efficiency: Traditionally, the greatest barriers to the development of sustainable, pointof-use energy generation have been cost and efficiency. Many first generation alternative energy technologies, such as small-scale solar and wind, were prohibitively expensive and required an exceedingly long time frame for return on investment (ROI), which made it even more challenging by the fundamental costs involved with the development of any new technology. In addition, first and second generation solar cells installed at most commercial residential buildings are relatively energy inefficient compared to other alternative energy technologies, on average converting a mere 15% of the suns energy into usable power.3 BuildingsAll Others

FIGURE 1.1: Energy Use


According to the United States Energy Information Administration, buildings account for 72% of electricity consuption, 39% of overall energy use, and 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions2

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Fuel Cells & Natural Gas: Energy Solutions For the 21st Century

Practical & Psychological Challenges: There are also a number of practical and psychological issues that are associated with local or personal energy systems. One needs to look no further than the deep and sustained resistance to the wind farms of Cape Cod to see citizens concerns with the visual impact of energy systems. Similarly, there are practical issues associated with building codes, product warranties, and other requirements for installing energy technologies (like solar or wind) on residential and commercial building sites. Again, this can be traced back to the traditional model where power is generated centrally, and far away from where it is consumed. Intermittency: Another major barrier to the widespread adoption of sustainable energy solutions has been the intermittency of some available technologies, where power generation is affected by seasonality, current weather conditions, or even the hours of the day. This leaves the consumer without a consistent and reliable supply of sustainable power, which ultimately cannot be considered a solution, no matter the cost or environmental benefits. The Status Quo of Power Generation: Cheap energy resources (i.e. natural gas, coal, and hydro) have traditionally been readily available. This convenience (along with the massive scale of the national grid and the lack of profitable and efficient point-of-use power generation technologies) has made the highly centralized, monolithic energy infrastructure the primary source of energy for decades. Introducing new ways of thinking and new energy production models into this regime is an incredibly complicated undertaking and disruptive to the current energy paradigm. As such, there is inherent resistance to newer options that present opportunity in the form of change.

21st Century Challenges


Another major barrier to the widespread adoption of sustainable energy solutions has been the intermittency of some available technologies, where power generation is affected by seasonality, current weather conditions, or even the hours of the day. This leaves the consumer without a consistent and reliable supply of sustainable power.

Introducing a new way of thinking.

What the Experts are Saying


I cant think of anything coming down the line thats going to have the same efficiency returns in this carbon-centric next generation like the fuel cell. John Picard Sustainability Design Engineer John Picard & Associates

Fuel Cells & Point-of-Use Energy: a 1+1=3 Scenario


Despite the challenges outlined above, there is a viable and available solution to create locally-generated, reliable, clean, and cost-effective power through fuel cell technology powered by natural gas. Not only are fuel cells highly efficient and powered by an abundant, convenient, and reliable natural resource, but they also provide considerable cost savings and significant reductions in greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions. How Fuel Cells Work: Fuel cells make use of an advanced electrochemical process, as opposed to combustion, to cleanly convert natural gas into power and thermal energy to provide electricity and heat for buildings (see Figure 1.2). This process provides significantly less expensive energy, while emitting far fewer emissions and pollutants than electricity that is produced at conventional power plants and purchased from a utility. Certain fuel cell designs known as combined heat and power (CHP) offer even further enhanced energy efficiency. A majority of the energy lost in traditional electricity production is given off in the form of waste heat, which a CHP fuel cell system captures, recycles and transfers to the customer in a usable form. By harnessing both the electricity and by-product heat, fuel cells can achieve as high as 90% efficiency, making a CHP fuel cell system one of the lowest carbon-emitting power sources available today.4

Figure 1.2: THE POWER OF TWO


One integrated unit delivers two essential energy needs.

ELECTRICITY HEAT

NATURAL GAS

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Fuel Cells & Natural Gas: Energy Solutions For the 21st Century

Fuel cells also utilize comparatively smaller amounts of feedstock fuel (natural gas) to produce the same amount of electricity and heat as conventional power production technologies. This increased fuel efficiency translates into significant reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, particulates, and pollutants. In fact, most fuel cell systems produce negligible amounts of NOx and SOx and no VOC (volatile organic compound).

Figure 1.3: Fuel to Energy Efficiency Percentage


Combined Heat & Power from a Fuel Cell

Efficiency increase is analogous to trading in a 20mpg automobile for a 35mpg model.

This high fuel-to-energy efficiency rate is the key to the promise of fuel cell technology. In the United States, the average fuel-to-energy efficiency of a typical building is approximately 50%, while electricity delivered from the grid provides only a 40% fuel-to-energy efficiency rate. Conventional onsite heating approaches 90%, yielding a weighted average of about 50% energy efficiency. In contrast, fuel cells that utilize the total amount of heat produced in a building can provide an energy conversion efficiency rate as high as 90%. This significant efficiency increase is analogous to trading in a 20 mile-per-gallon automobile for a 35 mile-per-gallon model. It produces significantly more power using significantly less fuel and as a result, emits far less CO2 (see Figure 1.3).

90%
Heat & Power from Conventional Sources

50%

Cost Savings: By producing power and heat at the point of use, fuel cells powered by natural gas not only dramatically reduce the amount of electricity that must be purchased from the utility, they provide the opportunity for the business or property owner to produce far more energy than they consume. This enables the property owner to contribute excess power to the larger grid, earning them credits on future electricity bills with the local utility through net metering programs and reducing the grid dependence of their community.

Did You Know?


By producing power and heat at the point of use, fuel cells powered by natural gas not only dramatically reduce the amount of electricity that must be purchased from the utility, they provide the opportunity for the business or property owner to produce far more energy than they consume. This enables the property owner to contribute excess power to the larger grid, earning them credits on future electricity bills with the local utility through net metering programs and reducing the grid dependence of their community.

90%
EFFICIENCY RATE

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Fuel Cells & Natural Gas: Energy Solutions For the 21st Century

Investing in energy efficiency can not only reduce costs, but also increase the value of a property. According to Appraisal Journal and RenewablesBiz Daily, there is a multiplier effect that stems from highly efficient buildings. That is, a property owner gains $20 in property value for each dollar saved on a utility bill from energy efficiency improvements. Thus, reducing a utility bill by $1,000 annually can provide a return of $20,000 in property value5 (see Figure 1.4).

What the Experts are Saying


People are probably unaware that they are getting about 40% of total electricity transmitted from the grid to their houses. With having an onsite unit like a fuel cell, its all right there. Youre not getting a lot of waste. So their efficiency is quite a bit higher. Jennifer Schwab Director of Sustainability Sierra Club Green Home

Reducing a utility bill by $1,000 annually can increase a homes value by $20,000.

Figure 1.4: Cost Savings


Investing in energy efficiency can not only reduce costs, but also increase the value of a property.

Get the Facts


As the United States continues to focus on revamping its energy distribution system and shifting toward a so-called smart grid system of power distribution, the ability to return and/or distribute power back to the grid will become increasingly important and profitable for people who can take advantage of emerging technologies to produce their own power. Natural Power: Fuel cell technology draws on one of the United States most abundant domestic resources, natural gas, to address two of the most pressing issues of our time: national energy security and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The United States is now the largest natural gas producing country in the world, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration has recently projected that U.S. natural gas supply will continue to increase beyond 2035.6 If only half of North Americas natural gas reserves become available for commercial production, they would still provide the United States with a 200-year supply of natural gas.7 And numerous observers have argued that drawing on these vast resources for power generation and transportation fuels must be part of a renewable rich energy portfolio.8

The United States is now the largest natural gas producing country in the world, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration has recently projected that U.S. natural gas supply will continue to increase beyond 2035.6 If only half of North Americas natural gas reserves become available for commercial production, they would still provide the United States with a 200-year supply of natural gas.7

Fuel Cell Technologies: The Future of Clean, Distributed, Efficient Power


Fuel cells powered by natural gas can help usher in what the economic, environmental, and energy experts agree is necessarya revolution in clean, distributed energy generation. As one of the lowest carbon producing energy technologies available today, fuel cells can allow owners of homes and commercial buildings to produce sustainable electricity and heatclean energy that provides significant economic savings, as well as significant carbon reduction. In doing so, fuel cells provide property owners with a viable game-changing opportunitynot only to save money, but to lead the way to a new, cleaner, and sustainable energy future.

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Fuel Cells & Natural Gas: Energy Solutions For the 21st Century

Citations:
1  U.S. Energy Information Administration Electric Power MonthlyTotal Electric Power Industry
Summary Statistics. 14 May 2010. Available at www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/tablees1a.html

Other Resources
Sierra Club Green Home www.sierraclubgreenhome.com Energy Solutions Center www.energysolutionscenter.org U.S. Green Building Council www.usgbc.org U.S. Fuel Cell Council www.usfcc.com California Center for Sustainable Energy www.energycenter.org CleanTech San Diego www.cleantechsandiego.org U.S. Regenerative Network www.regen-net.com

2  U.S. Energy Information Administration (2008). Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook. 3  U.S. Energy Information Administration (2010). Average Energy Conversion Efficiency of
Photovoltaic Cells and Modules. Available at www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/assumption

4  R. Neal Elliot and Mark Spurr, Combined Heat and Power: Capturing Wasted Energy, May 1999,
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Available at www.aceee.org/pubs/ie983.htm.

5  Nevin and Watson, Appraisal Journal, 1998; and Bill Opalka, Solar Homes Add Value, RenewablesBiz
Daily, May 17, 2011. Available at www.energybiz.com/article/11/05/solar-homes-add-value.

6  American Gas Association Energy Analysis, U.S. Natural Gas Supply: Then There Was
Abundance, January 20, 2010. Available at www.aga.org/Research/studies/ supplyoperations/1001EA01.htm

7  U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2010 early Release Year-by-Year
Reference Case Tables (2007-2035), Table 13, Natural Gas Supply, Disposition, and Prices. Available at www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/aeoref_tab.html

8  Cf., Christopher Flavin and Saya Kitasei, The Role of Natural Gas in a Low-Carbon Energy
Economy, Briefing Paper, Worldwatch Institute, April 2010. Available at www.worldwatch.org/files/ pdf/Worldwatch%20Paper%April%202010.pdf

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