Are fuel cells ready for datacenter primetime?

ClearEdge looks to bring self-generation of power to the mainstream datacenter market
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

Taking a position that will require datacenter executives to rethink the way that they power their facilities, fuel cell technology provider ClearEdge is proposing that their fuel cell systems can be the primary source of energy for the datacenter, relegating the grid to the role of backup power provider.

Unlike the better known Bloom fuel cells, which are rated at 100 kW each, the modular ClearEdge fuel cells are a smaller 5 kW each, and can be ganged together to deliver power that meets a specific customer need. The units are available in 5 kW increments up to 25 kW and can be scaled to deliver up to 200 kW of power.

The natural gas powered cells can also be configured so that the bulk of the thermal energy created by the fuel cell process is reusable to provide, for example, hot water to heating and other non-IT uses. The use of the thermal byproduct of the fuel cell has the benefit of increasing the overall efficiency and value of the cost of producing your own energy. This is over and beyond any other benefits such as those offered by some states and localities for self-generation of power.

The ClearEdge CP solutions include a triple redundancy of power options; a second, matched fuel cell, that can provide power to non-critical functions and switch over to provide additional power for IT loads, and a backup battery designed to deliver power for up to 1-hour in case of a problem with the fuel cell energy.  Overall the unit is targeted at datacenters as a complete package that delivers both primary and redundant backup power in a single system.

Power cost for the fuel cell average about 9 cents per kilowatt hour which is why ClearEdge has initially targeted locations that have high costs of purchased power, such as California and New York. In environment where the cost of buying energy can be more than double the cost of using their fuel cells, coupled with governmental incentives that offer tax breaks and even actual financial help for the installation of these clean, energy efficient solutions, fuel cell technology has made its largest inroads. But ClearEdge feels that with their new approach to the datacenter power supply problem, they can provide a competitive solution for datacenters even where they hold no advantage in the cost of energy production, but compete on the energy-efficiency, green power, and value and control proposition for producing your own power for your datacenters.

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