South Korea Opens World's Biggest Fuel Cell Park

Are fuel cells gaining steam as baseload power sources?

2 min read
South Korea Opens World's Biggest Fuel Cell Park

A company caled FuelCell Energy announced that its 11.2 megawatt "fuel cell park" is open for business in Daegu City in South Korea. The facility houses four of FuelCell's 2.8 MW devices, and provides the power to a utility in the region. The heat generated by the fuel cells is also being used by a wastewater treatment facility.

Taehyoung Kim, of FuelCell's Korean partner company POSCO Power, touted the fuel cells' ability to balance out grid variability. "Distributing a number of multi-megawatt fuel cell parks throughout an electrical service area enhances power reliability and energy security for electric utilities and their customers," he said in a press release.

There seems to be a growing interest in this sort of installation especially in South Korea, and the "world's largest" title might not last all that long. In April of this year, several companies signed a memorandum of understanding to build a 15 MW fuel cell plant, with plans to expand it to 60 MW.

I asked a spokesperson for FuelCell Energy about their installations and orders in the U.S., and he told me there are a few installations already running in the 2-4 MW range, including one on the U.C San Diego campus that uses purified biogas as its source fuel. As of the end of July, the company has a backlog of 78.5 MW that they're working on delivering, so there is certainly movement on this front.

Overall though, the fuel cell realm has been relatively quiet since early 2010 when the hype over the Bloom Box was at its highest. Bloom Energy has quietly been installing -- or announcing plans to install -- its devices for a number of companies and facilities though, including a number of AT&T locations, the arena for the San Jose Sharks, and Adobe's headquarters. We may see a few more grid-connected, power plant style fuel cell installations like those in South Korea come online, but it seems that individual companies that want to be a little bit more grid-independent will remain fuel cell companies' primary customers.

(Image of Daegu City installation via FuelCell Energy)

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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