Yenra : Energy : Fuel Cell Backup : Fuel cells provide backup power

Two fuel cells manufactured by Plug Power Inc. have been installed by DTE Energy Technologies Inc. to provide backup power at a Detroit Edison power station in a project intended to demonstrate the feasibility of using the technology in conjunction with the traditional power grid.

DTE Energy Technologies and Detroit Edison are subsidiaries of DTE Energy, which owns a 28 percent share of Plug Power. The fuel cells have been installed at Detroit Edison's Hancock Station in Commerce Township, Mich. DTE Energy Technologies offers a portfolio of distributed generation products, including fuel cells, and has exclusive distribution rights for Plug Power stationary fuel cells in a four-state region.

"This pilot program will give us a taste of meshing a distributed generation product -- a fuel cell -- with a real world power grid situation," said Ron May, DTE Energy senior vice president, Energy Distribution. "When DTE Energy became involved in distributed generation products, we knew that distributed generation and traditional power delivery were compatible in solving problems. This project was designed to prove that they can complement each others' capabilities."

The 5 kilowatt (kW) proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems operate to provide 2.5 kW each of electrical output and will support the battery systems that provide backup power to the control circuits for the power station's five natural gas-fired turbine peaker units. Those units are used to generate electricity during peak demand periods.

"The installation of fuel cells in this substation provides a unique opportunity to apply fuel cells in support of the existing electric grid," said Roger Saillant, Plug Power president and chief executive officer. "While we have supported direct power generation into the electrical grid, this installation represents the first application of our systems in supporting the critical control circuits within a power station. I am pleased to be a part of this effort and anticipate a significant amount of learning that will allow us to continue to build our experience base."

The one-year project will include a joint effort to test the functionality, operation and maintenance requirements, and determine if future generations of fuel cells may eventually replace the backup battery systems at power stations and other critical utility applications. It also will validate the center that monitors, dispatches and performs energy trading activities for distributed power units via the internet.

The project objective also is to assess the use of fuel cells to improve the reliability of battery systems at power stations by providing a grid-independent source to charge the batteries.

"If we're successful, fuel cells could provide an improvement over today's more maintenance- and labor-intensive approach with the battery systems," May said. "We're excited about our sister companies pursuing this advanced energy technology."