Clean-energy plant powers up California county buildings
Starting in spring 2010, Sonoma County, Calif., (2008 population: 466,741) will rely on a Direct Fuelcell DFC1500 power plant to generate 1.4 megawatts of electricity to supply 100 percent of the baseload electricity needed to operate its jail and county office buildings in Santa Rosa.
The heat byproduct from the plant’s operation will be recovered and used to make hot water for space heating, cleaning and cooking, replacing half the natural gas the county currently purchases.
The installation of the plant, from FuelCell Energy, Inc., is a major part of the $22 million Comprehensive Energy Project to make Sonoma County buildings energy efficient, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and meet the reduction targets established in the County’s Climate Protection Action Plan.
When operating in a combined heat and power mode, the DFC power plant can achieve up to 80 percent efficiency, according to the manufacturer. That high level of efficiency will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. By comparison, typical grid electricity is only 33 percent electrically efficient. In addition, because DFC power plants produce electricity without combustion, they produce near-zero nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter, and are an effective means of meeting air quality standards with around-the-clock electric generation.
Sonoma County expects to achieve energy cost savings during the first year of operation. “Installing a DFC fuel cell power plant is not only a wise financial decision,” said Jose Obregon, head of the county’s General Service Department. “It also demonstrates we’re being responsible stewards of the environment by dramatically lessening the impact of county operations on our community. No distributed power generation alternative we evaluated was able to compete with its high efficiency combined with its environmentally responsible benefits.”
Sonoma County’s purchase of the DFC unit through its site contractor AirCon Energy was partially funded with a $3 million grant from California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program administered by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
DFC fuel cells are generating power at more than 50 locations worldwide. FuelCell Energy’s power plants have generated 275 million kilowatt hours of power using a variety of fuels, including renewable wastewater gas, biogas from beer and food processing, as well as natural gas and other hydrocarbon fuels.