Are fuel cells a reliable power source for off-grid applications?
Hydrogen fuel cells are a clean way of generating power in remote, emergency, or demanding conditions such as nano and micro-grids. But how reliable is hydrogen when compared to traditional fuels or other renewable off-grid power solutions?
Why fuel cells for off-grid?
Off-grid power generation is key in areas that cannot rely on the grid to maintain operations. A solution to supporting power in these areas is using hydrogen fuel cells to generate power without being attached to a mains source. Fuel cells can also work as a hybrid system by working in conjunction with storage batteries and electrolysers to be completely self-sufficient. They essentially replace traditional diesel generators for a cleaner, longer-term sustainable method of reliable power.
You can learn more about the technology behind off-grid clean power in our previous article here.
How reliable are hydrogen fuel cells for off-grid applications?
Hydrogen fuel cells are able to produce reliable power in an array of conditions, making them suitable for a range of environments and applications.
They can operate within a temperature range of +5°C to 40°C, so can be used year-round as a dependable source of power. They’re also usable at altitudes ranging from 0m to 4000m and at humidity levels of 10% to 90%.
In terms of their physical properties, hydrogen fuel cells are reliable because of their scalability and their modularity, meaning they can be serviced easily, and individual cells can be replaced without taking the others offline, if needed. This can be performed without disrupting the entire generator, reducing downtime.
Chemically, hydrogen is abundant and is extracted easily from water with an on-site electrolyser. Demand has grown threefold for hydrogen since 1975 according to the International Energy Agency, and the abundance of hydrogen means that hydrogen-powered off-grid fuel cells are becoming more commonplace.
How do off-grid hydrogen fuel cells compare to other renewables?
Hydrogen fuel cells are more reliable than other renewable generators because of the lack of dependence on specific weather or environmental conditions. For example, solar generators require a clear, sunny day for optimal power generation, and wind powered options need to be in a prime location that can make the most of windy conditions. A hydrogen generator, however, doesn’t need sunny or windy conditions in order to perform optimally.
Another unique feature of using hydrogen is that once generated, it can be stored without risk of degradation over time. It can then be converted to electricity via the fuel cells as and when power is required.
Why use fuel cells in off-grid applications over diesel generators?
Diesel generators are known to be largely robust and reliable for power generation and they offer a large variety of power output options too. However, increased regulations and environmental targets could see cleaner alternatives replacing these more traditional and common sources of power. For example, the Construction Leadership Council have set a target to cut diesel emissions in the construction industry in the UK by 78% by 2025. This plan involves banning diesel generators for the leading 500 construction firms, in their quest to transition to cleaner fuels and electricity. This presents an issue for the reliability and dependability of diesel solutions in the coming years as a viable fuel for generators, unlike hydrogen alternatives which are a clean and compliant alternative.
IE-POWER fuel cell range
The IE-POWER range includes reliable and clean solutions for construction, materials handling, and telecoms applications.
IE-POWER 4 is used frequently for off-grid power solutions, backup power for telecoms and as a range extender for storage battery banks too.
IE-POWER 1T and 1U is a compact, robust module that is used in portable and motive solutions across a range of sectors, including material handling, and construction plant and equipment.
Real-life applications of off-grid fuel cells
So, where have hydrogen fuel cells been used?
Sesame Solar uses Intelligent Energy’s IE-POWER fuel cells to support their disaster recovery centres. As the first of its kind, the Nanogrids leverage solar power and green hydrogen to bring clean energy where it’s needed most. In most cases, these are required in rural areas where supply to mains power isn’t readily available.
By working in conjunction with solar power, the Nanogrids can run solely off renewable power and with the average U.S. home drawing in around 20-24 kW of power in a day, a single Sesame Solar Nanogrid can power 4-6 houses using this energy combination.
Intelligent Energy have worked with partners Enapter and H2 Core Systems on the EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand) Learning Centre in Thailand to provide an education and research hub that would highlight the use cases of renewable energy to the public.
Through a combination of solar, electrolysis and fuel cell technology, the Learning Centre runs on clean power. Power generated from solar PV is used to produce 100% green hydrogen through electrolysis during the daytime. The excess green hydrogen stored over the day is then used by the hydrogen fuel cells on-site to power the energy efficient centre. This hydrogen micro-grid project showcases how green technology can support off-grid locations, eliminating diesel use.
At Intelligent Energy, we offer a range of low maintenance, modular, scalable, reliable off-grid fuel cell systems as part of our IE-POWER range. If you’d like to get in contact with us to discuss your business’ requirements or to find out more, please fill out our contact form or call or email our Loughborough office. Our team is always happy to help!