UCSD adds power storage to fuel cell project


Part of ‘Smart Energy Grid’

The University of California, San Diego, (UCSD) plans to store power produced at night from a planned 2.8 megawatt “green” fuel cell and use the energy during peak-demand hours the following day when electricity rates are highest.

Implementation of the advanced energy storage system at UCSD was made possible by the Nov. 21 approval by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) of a measure designed to lower peak demands on the state’s electrical power grid.

“The pairing of advanced energy-storage systems with distributed renewable generating technologies is a hugely important step in facilitating the effective integration of renewables into the California system,” said Michael R. Peevey, President of the California Public Utilities Commission. “Increasingly the state will be relying on renewable resources, like wind, fuel cells, and other technologies that do not necessarily produce energy when it is most valuable. Storage solves that problem, transforming what would otherwise be low-value energy into high-value energy that can be used onsite to reduce peak energy demand. UCSD should be commended for taking this important step.”

Under the CPUC order, UCSD power-storage system would be eligible for $3.4 million in financial incentives. A formula of incentives encourages non-utility operators of fuel cells and small wind turbines of 5 megawatts or less to couple those systems to energy storage technologies.

UCSD’s fuel cell system from FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Conn., will be installed on campus by late 2009. It will use an electrochemical process to convert methane gas directly into electricity. The renewable methane will be collected at the city of San Diego’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and purified by the Linde Group, whose U.S. headquarters are in Murray Hill, NJ. The wastewater treatment plant’s methane is currently flared off as waste.

Once in operation, the electrical output of the fuel cell will be used 20 hours a day to power the campus’s grid, and be used four hours a day to charge batteries, compress air, or employ another energy-storage technology. This stored power will be discharged the following afternoon during periods of highest electricity demand. The entire fuel cell project is expected to cost as much as $16 million. In addition, the university will capture the waste heat generated by the fuel cell as a continuous power source for 320 tons of chilling capacity to cool campus buildings.

“California continues to lead the nation in promoting innovative new green technologies, and it is appropriate that one of the nation’s greenest universities is leading an effort that could be a model for other universities in California and other states,” said State Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), who will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee during the 2009-2010 legislative session. “The UCSD project will reduce demand on the regional electrical grid during peak-demand hours, benefiting all San Diegans and saving the state and the university money.”

The university’s fuel cell is part of an 8-megawatt alternative energy system that involves usage of electricity produced by solar photovoltaic panels and wind power generated off campus. The 8-megawatt system will produce enough electricity to power more than 4,000 homes a year, equivalent to removing more than 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.

Students are involved in a variety of ways in many of the university’s alternative energy projects, essentially turning UCSD into a living laboratory of green energy ideas and solutions.

“Efficient energy storage and the concept of a smart energy grid are challenging technical issues not just in California, but also nationally and worldwide,” said Art Ellis, vice chancellor for research at UC San Diego. “We are committed to going green not only because it makes economic and environmental sense, but also because it represents research and educational opportunities for our faculty, staff and students.”

UCSD will soon be using the electricity produced by a 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) system. The university is planning to install another megawatt of PV panels.

UCSD hosted and chaired several panels at the international Montreux Energy Roundtable Dec. 2-4 in La Jolla, CA, on advanced energy storage. The event was co-sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, Sempra Energy Utilities, the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and CleanTECH San Diego.