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Fuel cells stack up well when comparing clean energy alternatives, and they're increasingly being considered as sources of grid-tied and independent heat and power in stationary and mobile applications. Two recent fuel cell systems installations in New York City - at the new World Trade Center and at The Octagon, a mixed use development on Roosevelt Island - are good examples.

Clean Power

Fuel Cells: A Clean Energy Alternative at New World Trade Center, New York City’s Octagon

Fuel cells stack up well when comparing clean energy alternatives, and they’re increasingly being considered as sources of grid-tied and independent heat and power in stationary and mobile applications. Two recent fuel cell systems installations in New York City – at the new World Trade Center and at The Octagon, a mixed use development on Roosevelt Island – are good examples.

Photo courtesy UTC Power

Our posting of UTC Power’s February 2011 infographic comparing the energy conversion and green tech attributes of their 400 kilowatt (kW) model PureCell with that of the equivalent solar and wind power systems generated a number of comments and criticism.

Looking to clarify matters and respond to readers’ comments, including adding information about the infographic’s underlying assumptions and data sources, I got back in touch with UTC Power’s marketing and communications manager Mike Glynn with the help of the MSL Group’s Mary McCeney. I believe it pays to keep an open mind when considering clean, green energy alternatives.

In the process, I learned about two high-profile applications of UTC Power’s PureCell fuel cell systems. First, 12 UTC Power PureCell Model 400 fuel cell stacks are now on site at the new World Trade Center in downtown New York City. Providing 4.8 megawatts (MW) of clean power when operational, the combined systems will rank as one of the largest fuel cell installations in the world, according to UTC.

In a second installation, solar and fuel cell power are both providing clean energy at The Octagon, a mixed-use residential and commercial building complex on Roosevelt Island in midtown Manhattan. A 50kW solar power array and a PureCell Model 400, 400kW system are supplying 50% of the building’s power needs.

Leading the Way to Clean Energy Independence

Turning to the infographic, UTC Power’s Mike Glynn provided the following regarding readers’ comments and criticism:

The intent of this infographic is to communicate that solar, wind and fuel cell technology can co-exist and are three vital components to help pave the way for energy independence and a sustainable, clean and secure energy future. Other notable technologies include geothermal, biomass and hydropower.

The figures shown in the infographic were derived from publically available sources and calculated/published in Feb 2011 based on equivalently-sized applications (normalized to 400 kW) and installation in the northeast United States (where many of our customers/installations are). Each facility and application is, of course, unique and there are many types of solar, wind and fuel cell solutions available.

The information conveys that fuel cells are an important part of the energy equation and may make the most economic sense for certain applications with a significant 24/7 electric and thermal energy demands.

I should add the following:

  • the payback calculations include the cost of operations and maintenance
  • subsidies and incentives were omitted to facilitate apples-to-apples comparison as they vary so widely and from state to state
  • to reiterate, the Northeast was chosen because that’s where UTC Power calls home. Hence, payback calculations are based on the average regional cost of grid power, the Northeast’s grid power coming primarily from coal and natural gas.
  • the estimated lifespan of 25 years is a fair, somewhat conservative average estimate in light of current data and system warranties

Fuel cells really come into their own in terms of efficiency and environmental benefits when they are used to provide both heat and electrical power, Glynn pointed out. “If you just utilize the electrical output, fuel cells top out at around 42% of conversion efficiency, but you can bump that up as high 90% when you use the heat,” he said, “and that’s where it really varies by application.

“We’re upfront about that with our customers. The real gains come when fuel cells are not only used for electricity, but when you process as much of that thermal energy as possible. That’s where you get the 3-4 year payback – with heat integration and incentives.”

Fuel Cells at Freedom Tower, The Octagon

As mentioned, Glynn also cited two high-profile UTC Power projects that illustrate the benefits of fuel cell systems as a clean energy alternative.

The New York Power Authority selected UTC Power to provide 12 PureCell Model 400 fuel cells that will be used in the new World Trade Center (the “Freedom Tower”) and three other new towers under construction at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. The 12 fuel cells will provide 4.8 MW of power for the towers. Combined, the systems will rank as one of the largest installations of fuel cells in the world.

Three PureCell Model 400 fuel cells will be installed in each of the four new World Trade Center towers. The first six were delivered and installed in the basements of the towers in 2010, and an additional three earlier this year. The remaining three will be delivered in the coming months based on construction progress.

The project and delivery of the fuel cells was covered in a Wall Street Journal article and video.

UTC Power’s PureCell Model 400 system is also being used to provide clean power in concert with a 400kW solar power array at The Octagon, a Becker & Becker Associates’ residential and commercial building on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The combined systems are providing 50% of the building’s electrical power.

As UTC announced in May, the Octagon was the first residential building in New York City to make use of fuel cells.

The Octagon received the largest initial award of New York State Green Building Tax Credits. It was recognized with the “Green Apple Award” for leadership in applying sustainable design principles to residential development at the New York City Green Buildings Competiton and has also earned an LEED Silver rating.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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