Hydrogen’s role in backup power

While the rise of wind and solar deservedly grabs most of the headlines there’s another sustainable power source that has slowly become an integral part of both grids and independent power generation systems. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is, in many ways, the perfect backup energy source– providing electricity, heating and cooling and can be fueled by either fossil or renewable fuels. Naturally, we’re particularly interested in CHP with green credentials.

CHP systems capture the excess heat from electricity generation and transfer it into a heating system either through steam or water. This makes CHP one of the most efficient backup power systems around, capable of operating in excess of 80% efficiency.

There are three kinds of fuel cell that are generally used in CHP systems: molton carbonate fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells. Each of these produce significantly more heat than most conventional fuel cells, allowing them to be serve the multiple functions of CHP. Whichever type is used, CHP backup power usually provides at least 10% energy savings, huge reductions in CO2 and up to 40% cost savings.

The latest trends in CHP implementation, particularly in Europe, have been towards ‘Micro-CHP. These are small Combined Heat and Power systems that are designed for a single household or office block. These smaller units can run everything: central heating, air conditioning and electricity– creating entirely self-sufficient homes and businesses.

Fuel cells can also be used more conventionally as simply a superior storage medium for electrical energy in terms of both capacity and longevity. When used in tandem with photovoltaic cells even remote systems require very little maintenance. Firms needn’t worry any longer about oversizing their battery banks (sometimes over 300% with VRLA batteries), and the entire system is quick to integrate with no major changes needed, even to non-renewable setups.

Fuel cells are already playing an important role in backup power, one that’s sure to grow as government regulations stipulate tougher efficiency quotas. The next step is the transition from backup power to primary energy provider– and energy-independent buildings with micro CHP units could well be part of that process.

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