Case Study: Fuel cells power critical infrastructure in disasters

Apr 08, 2013 Fuel cells are proving to be an attractive option for clean, reliable backup power during hurricanes, blizzards and other causes of grid failures. While the United States’ power grid is 99.97% reliable, it is estimated that power outages cause Americans $150 billion in economic losses each year. Fuel Cells 2000’s new study, "When the Grid Fails: Fuel cells power critical infrastructure in disasters," shows how fuel cells are serving as backup power across several industries. TELECOMMUNICATIONS Since more than a third of U.S. households rely solely on wireless communications devices, storms can be particularly disruptive to critical communications systems used by first responders, 911 operators, emergency crews, and the general public. More than 3,000 cell towers are now equipped with fuel backup systems nationwide, many of which have already helped cell networks power through severe weather events. DATA CENTERS A study by the Aberdeen Group estimated that companies lose an average of $138,000 for every hour their data center is offline. Understanding the importance of having an uninterrupted power supply, many companies including Apple and eBay are using fuel cell systems for backup and primary power. GROCERY AND RETAIL STORES Several supermarket chains, including Whole Foods, Safeway, Stop & Shop, Albertson’s, Star Market and Price Chopper, have invested in fuel cell backup systems at some of their new stores, hoping to mitigate the financial impact of losing power. HOSPITALS Backup power is critical in hospitals, where patients’ lives could be threatened if power is lost for life support, operating rooms, and medicine refrigeration. A report by the Urban Institute on the challenges faced by hospitals during Katrina characterized the generator failures as “one of the most striking and disappointing parts of the post-Katrina experience.” One of the earliest fuel cell demonstration projects included a 200 kW fuel cell at North Central Bronx Hospital, located on the building’s second-story rooftop that served as supplementary or backup power to the grid and diesel generators. That unit has since been decommissioned, but because of the success of that trial, several hospitals have turned to fuel cell backup power systems to help prevent this kind of situation while reducing energy costs. ADDITIONAL APPLICATIONS Shelters: A 200 kW ClearEdge PureCell system in Connecticut kept South Windsor High School running for nine days during Winter Storm Alfred. Police stations: The 250 kW ClearEdge Power fuel cell system at New York City Central Park Precinct kept the building operational during the 2003 blackout in the Northeast. Mobile power: Toyota is currently designing a fuel cell bus that could provide portable power to evacuation centers, shelters, and other vital facilities during emergencies. Gas stations: Fuel cell backup power at gas stations could prevent the long lines and gas rationing that typically follows hurricanes. Residential: In Japan, micro-CHP (combined heat and power) fuel cell systems have become increasingly popular since the 2011 tsunami. These fuel cells provide space heating, hot water, and additional power for homes. Fuel cells help reduce grid dependency and mitigate financial losses from power outages while keeping critical infrastructure up and running. No longer an environmentalist’s pipe dream, fuel cells’ reliability, scalability and wide range of fuel sources are saving money for companies in a variety of industries, and making dependable access to emissions-free power a reality. The complete report can be found at: To read more about fuel cells and the various applications and customers they serve, please go to

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