A Fuel Cell Backup Power Solution Fit for a King (or even a Utility)
Happy Anniversary… Not
Just a few days ago, we marked the 15th anniversary of the big blackout that left more than 50 million people wit
hout power. The outage lasted between 24 hours and two weeks and contributed to at least 11 deaths. The economic costs were an estimated $6 billion in direct and indirect damages.
If you haven’t seen the photos of the chaos caused by the blackout (or forgot what it was like), then you should take a look.
So, how did this huge blackout happen?
Little Causes for a Massive Outage
The primary cause of the massive blackout was a software bug in the alarm system at a utility control room of FirstEnergy Corporation, an Akron, Ohio–based company. The bug prevented operators from becoming aware of the need to re-distribute the electrical load after overloaded transmission lines drooped into some overgrown trees and were short circuited. In addition to the mistake of not trimming the trees, a series of technical and human errors transformed what should have been a manageable local blackout into the shut-down of twenty-one power plants and the collapse of the entire electric grid—in just three minutes.
Restoring power after day-long or multiple day-long blackouts is complicated by the ability of battery systems to deliver backup power to autorecloser circuit breakers for only 6-8 hours. After that, individual substations can’t be remotely managed, and technicians must drive to each substation and manually bring them back online.
In other words, your utility’s backup plans are really only good for 6-8 hours.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells to the Rescue
While you can’t prevent 100% of the outages, utilities can mitigate the damage of long-duration outages. One way to mitigate the damage is to keep your autoreclosers and SCADA-based switches with enough power to automate black-start power restoration.
Invented in 1839 by William Grove, fuel cells are an ultra-reliable source of backup power. In fact, they’re so reliable that they were used by the American and Russian space programs to power their spaceships.
And fuel cells are excellent for providing backup power since they don’t discharge electricity like batteries; they actually generate it using hydrogen and oxygen.
A Customized Solution for Electrical Utilities
Following a very expensive and very lengthy outage, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the large utility based in southern California, decided to acquire a fuel cell power solution to “backup their backup.” But they needed it to meet the specific challenges of an electrical utility, including operation in an earthquake zone.
GenCell worked very closely with SDG&E for nearly two years to create the GenCell G5rx, a fuel cell backup power solution that would meet the rigorous requirements of SDG&E and the electrical utility industry.
The special features of the GenCell G5rx Utility Backup Power Solution include:
- Immediate power generation in the event of an outage
- Support for direct supply of power or refilling battery backup systems
- Hot-swap refueling to support multi-day outages
- A 125V On-Line DC Bus to support a peak load of 120A
- Support for substation energy profiles & safety standards
- A special earthquake- and bomb-resistant shelter
As part of SDG&E’s rigorous acceptance tests, the GenCell G5rx was sent to the Environmental Testing Laboratory (ETL) in Dallas TX to undergo a series of shake table tests at 1.0 g, which is the maximum seismic hazard in the US. Upon passing the test, GenCell G5rx became the first IEEE 693 seismic-compliant fuel cell power solution for use at utility substations.
Take a Virtual Visit to the GenCell G5rx at SDG&E
To learn more about how SDG&E is using the GenCell G5rx, see the short video produced by the San Diego Examiner.