Fuel Cells Explained

Fuel Cell Applications & Issues

Fuel Cell Applications: Stationary

photoFuel Cells for Stationary (Buildings) Power

Fuel cells could potentially produce electricity for homes, businesses, institutions, and industry through stationary power plants. Sizes range from 1 kilowatt (the average U.S. house uses about 1-2 kW and peak at 15 kW during high usage times) to several megawatts (enough to power institutions or factories).

Stationary power applications of fuel cells will require the development of low-cost, reliable, and efficient power inverter and grid interface technology. Power inversion is required to convert the direct current power produced ordinarily by the fuel cell stack into the alternating current on the utility grid. Also, control technology is needed to achieve reliable and cost-effective operation of fuel cells and to produce high-quality power. The balance of plant considerations such as pumps, valves, piping, controls, and power electronics require advancement in reliability, cost, and optimization for fuel cell applications.

Distributed Generation

Distributed Generation or DG is defined as:

Small-scale electric generation located close to the load being served.

Sometimes this is also referred to as "On-Site Power" or "Distributed Power," which includes not only generation but also storage.

Another related term with some important distinctions is Distributed Energy Resources (DER) which is defined as:

A variety of small, modular power-generating technologies that can be combined with energy management and storage systems and used to improve the operation of the electricity delivery system, whether or not those technologies are connected to an electricity grid. (U.S. DOE )


Distributed generation is often contrasted to central generation. In the case of central generation, power is generated in a large plant (gigawatts in size) and electricity is transmitted over transmission and distribution lines (collectively referred to as the power grid) to buildings where the power is consumed.

In the case of distributed generation, the potential exists to provide generation at the building where the power is consumed AND feed excess power back into the power grid as well as take power from it.

Another key advantage of distributed generation is that in addition to the higher efficiency electricity the heat produced by the fuel cell can be utilized by the site. This is referred to as Combined Heating and Power or CHP.

Some fuel cell developers for Stationary applications include:

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