Fuel cell switched on at Cal State San Bernardino

A new 1.4 MW utility-owned fuel cell is now in full operation at Cal State San Bernardino. The commissioning of a Direct Fuel Cell DFC1500 power plant, a joint project with Southern California Edison (SCE), was recently completed.

Now integrated into the campus's central power plant, the fuel cell is generating electricity to the utility grid with waste heat to the campus at no cost to the university.

"Electricity generated by the fuel cell is going straight into the Edison grid, and the university will be able to utilize the waste heat it produces to preheat the campus heating system, resulting in an estimated annual savings of $120,000 from avoided natural gas costs," said Tony Simpson, senior director of facilities services at Cal State San Bernardino.

The combined heat and power configuration —known as cogeneration — of the fuel cell will reduce the campus's carbon dioxide emissions by lessening reliance on the high temperature hot water generators currently in operation. The fuel cell will continue to use natural gas to generate ultra-clean electricity through an electrochemical reaction, but because there is no combustion, unhealthful emissions are reduced.

Additionally, the fuel cell is highly efficient, generating more power from a given unit of fuel and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to combustion-based power sources in a similar size range. Cogeneration DFC power plants can achieve total thermal efficiencies up to 90 percent, depending on the application.

The distributed generation attribute of fuel cells also enables power-generating capacity at the point of use without a commensurate investment in the transmission and distribution grid, improving energy security by reducing the need to transport electricity from remote sources.

In the spring of 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized Southern California Edison and another California utility to pursue utility-owned fuel cell installations at California universities, recognizing fuel cells as preferred resources because of clean fossil fuel generation and distributed generation.

Cal State San Bernardino is the fifth California university with a Direct FuelCell installation, representing 8 MW in total power generation capacity. This fuel cell power plant was manufactured by Fuel Cell Energy Inc. and is owned by SCE.

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