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Batteries have become indispensable for energy storage in renewable energy systems such as solar and wind. In fact the cost of battery bank, replacements, operation and maintenance will exceed the cost of PV solar panels for off grid applications during the life cycle of 20 years. However, batteries are continued to be used by electric power utilities for the benefits of peak shaving and load leveling. Battery energy storage facilities give the dynamic benefits such as voltage and frequency regulation, load following, spinning reserve and power factor correction along with the ability to give peak power.

Fuel cell power generation is another attractive option for providing power for electric utilities and commercial buildings due to its high-efficiency and environmentally friendly nature. This type of power production is especially economical, where potential users are faced with high cost in electric power generation from coal or oil, or where environmental constraints are stringent, or where load constraints of transmission and distribution systems are so tight that their new installations are not possible. Both batteries and fuel cells have their own unique advantages to electric power systems. They also contain a great potential to back up severe PV power fluctuations under varying weather conditions.

Photovoltaic power outputs vary depending mainly upon solar insolation and cell temperature.  PV power generator may sometimes experience sharp fluctuations owing to intermittent weather conditions, which causes control problems such as load frequency control, generator voltage control and even system stability.  Therefore there is a need for backup power facilities in the PV power generation.   Fuel cells and batteries are able to respond very fast to load changes because their electricity is generated by chemical reactions. A 14.4kW lead acid battery running at 600A has greatest load gradient of 300 A/sec, a phosphoric-acid fuel cell system can match a demand that varies by more than half its rated output within 0.1 second. The dynamic response time of a 20kW solid-oxide fuel cell power plant is less than 4 second when a load increases from 1 to 100%, and it is less than 2 msec when a load decreases from 100 to 1%.  Factory assembled units provides fuel cell and battery power plants with short lead-time from planning to installation. This modular production enables them to be added in varying increments of capacity, to match the power plant capacity to expected load growth. In contrast, the installation of a single large conventional power plant may produce excess capacity for several years, especially if the load growth rate is low.  Due to their multiple parallel modular units and absence of combustion and electromechanical rotary devices, fuel cell and battery power plants are more reliable than any other forms of power generation. Fuel cells are expected to obtain performance reliability near 85%. Consequently, a utility that installs a number of fuel cell or battery power plants is able to cut its reserve margin capacity while maintaining a constant level of the system reliability. The electrochemical conversion processes of fuel cells and batteries are silent because they do not have any major rotating devices or combustion.  Water requirement for their operation is very little while conventional power plants require a massive amount of water for system cooling.

Therefore, they can eliminate water quality problems created by the conventional plants’ thermal discharges. Air pollutant emission levels of fuel cells and batteries are none or very little. Emissions of SO2 and NOx in the fuel cell power plant are 0.003 lb/MWh and 0.0004 lb/MWh respectively. Those values are projected to be about 1,000 times smaller than those of fossil-fuel power plants since fuel cells do not rely on combustion process. These environmentally friendly characteristics make it possible for those power plants to be located close to load centers in urban and suburban area. It can also cut energy losses and costs associated with transmission and distribution equipment. Their site near load centers may also cut the likelihood of power outage.

Electricity is produced in a storage battery by electro-chemical reactions. Similar chemical reactions take place in a fuel cell, but there is a difference between them with respect to fuel storage. In storage batteries chemical energy is stored in the positive/negative electrodes of the batteries. In fuel cells, however, the fuels are stored externally and need to be fed into the electrodes continuously when the fuel cells are operated to generate electricity.

Power generation in fuel cells is not limited by the Carnot Cycle in the view that they directly convert available chemical free energy to electrical energy than going through combustion processes.  Therefore fuel cell is a more efficient power conversion technology than the conventional steam-applying power generations. Fuel cell is a one-step process to generate electricity, the conventional power generator has several steps for electricity generation and each step incurs a certain amount of energy loss. Fuel cell power systems have around 40-60% efficiencies depending on the type of electrolytes. For example, the efficiencies of phosphoric-acid fuel cells and molten-carbonate fuel cells are 40-45% and 50-60%, respectively. Furthermore, the fuel cell efficiency is usually independent of size; small power plants run as efficiently as large ones. Battery power systems themselves have high energy efficiencies of nearly 80%, but their overall system efficiencies from fuel through the batteries to converted ac power are reduced to below 30%. This is due to energy losses taking place when one energy form is converted to another

A battery with a rated capacity of 200Ah battery will give less than 200 Ah. At less than 20A of discharge rates, the battery will give more that 200 Ah. The capacity of a battery is specified by their time rate of discharge. As the battery discharges, its terminal voltage, the product of the load current and the battery internal resistance gradually decreases. There is also a reduction in battery capacity with increasing rate of discharge. At 1-hr discharge rate, the available capacity is only 55% of that obtained at 20-hr rate. This is because there is insufficient time for the stronger acid to replace the weak acid inside the battery as the discharge proceeds.   For fuel cell power systems, they have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. The customer’s demand for electrical energy is not always constant. So for a power utility to keep adjustment to this changing demand, either large base-load power plants must sometimes run at part load, or smaller peaking units must be used during periods of high demand. Either way, efficiency suffers or pollution increases. Fuel cell systems have a greater efficiency at full load and this high-efficiency is retained as load diminishes, so inefficient peaking generators may not be needed.

Fuel cells have an advantage over storage batteries in the respect of operational flexibility. Batteries need several hours for recharging after they are fully discharged. During discharge the batteries’ electrode materials are lost to the electrolyte, and the electrode materials can be recovered during the recharging process. Over time there is a net loss of such materials, which may be permanently lost when the battery goes through a deep discharge. The limited storage capacity of the batteries implies that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours.

Fuel cells do not undergo such material changes. The fuel stored outside the cells can quickly be replenished, so they do not run down as long as the fuel can be supplied.   The fuel cells show higher energy density than the batteries when they run for more than 2 hours. It means that fuel cell power systems with relatively small weight and volume can produce large energy outputs. That will give the operators in central control centers for the flexibility needed for more efficient use of the capital-intensive fuel cell power plants.

In addition, where hydrogen storage is possible, renewable power sources can drive an electrolysis process to produce hydrogen gas during off-peak periods that will be used to run the fuel cells during peak demands. The usage of storage batteries in an electric utility industry is expected to increase for the purposes of load leveling at peak loads, real-time frequency control, and stabilizing transmission lines. When integrated with photovoltaic systems, the batteries are required to suppress the PV power fluctuations due to the changes of solar intensity and cell temperature. The fact that the PV power outputs change sharply under cloudy  weather conditions makes it hard to decide the capacity of the battery power plants since their discharging rates are not constant. For a lead-acid battery, the most applicable battery technology for photovoltaic applications to date, the depth of discharge should not exceed 80% because the deep discharge cycle reduces its effective lifetime. In order to prevent the deep discharge and to supplement varying the PV powers generated on cloudy weather days, the battery capacity must be large. Moreover, the large battery capacity is usually not fully used, but for only several days. Fuel cells integrated with photovoltaic systems can give smoother operation. The fuel cell system is capable of responding quickly enough to level the combined power output of the hybrid PV-fuel cell system in case of severe changes in PV power output. Such a fast time response capability allows a utility to lower its need for on-line spinning reserve. The flexibility of longer daily operation also makes it possible for the fuel cells to do more than the roles of gas-fired power plants. Gas turbines are not economical for a purpose of load following because their efficiencies become lower and operating costs get higher at less than full load conditions

Fuel cell does not emit any emission except water vapor and there is absolutely no carbon emission.  However, storage batteries themselves do not contain any environmental impacts even though the battery charging sources produce various emissions and solid wastes. When an Electrolyzer is used to generate Hydrogen on site to fuel the Fuel cell, the cost of the system comes down due to much reduction in the capacity of the battery. The specific cost of energy and NPC is lower than fully backed battery system.

During dismantling, battery power plants require a significant amount of care for their disposal to prevent toxic materials from spreading around. All batteries that are commercially viable or under development for power system applications contain hazardous and toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, sodium, sulfur, bromine, etc. Since the batteries have no salvage value and must be treated as hazardous wastes, disposal of spent batteries is an issue. Recycling batteries is encouraged and not placing them in a landfill. One method favoring recycling of spent batteries is regulation. Thermal treatment for the lead-acid and cadmium-containing batteries is needed to recover lead and cadmium. Sodium-sulfur and zinc bromine batteries are also required to be treated before disposal.

Both batteries and fuel cells are able to respond very fast to system load changes because they produce electricity by chemical reactions inside them. Their fast load-response capability can nicely support the sharp PV power variations resulted from weather changes.  However, there are subtle different attributes between batteries and fuel cells when they are applied to a PV power backup option. Power generation in fuel cell power plants is not limited by the Carnot Cycle, so they can meet high power conversion efficiency. Even taking into account the losses due to activation over potential and ohmic losses, the fuel cells still have high efficiencies from 40% to 60%. For example, efficiencies of PAFCs and MCFCs are 40-45% and 50-60% respectively. Battery power plants, however, themselves have high energy efficiency of nearly 80%, but the overall system efficiency from raw fuel through the batteries to the converted ac power is reduced to about 30%.

A battery’s terminal voltage gradually decreases as the battery discharges due to a proportional decrease of its current. A battery capacity reduces with increasing rate of discharge, so its full capacity cannot be used when it discharges at high rates. On the other hand, fuel cell power plants have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. This feature allows the fuel cells to be able to follow a changing demand without losing efficiency. The limited storage capacity of batteries indicates that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours. The batteries when fully discharged need several hours to be recharged.

For its use in PV power connections, it is as hard   to estimate the exact capacity of the batteries. In order to prevent the batteries’ deep discharge and to supplement the varying PV powers on some cloudy weather days, the battery capacity should be large, but that large capacity is not fully utilized on shiny days. For fuel cells, they do not contain such an operational time restriction as long as the fuel can be supplied. Thus, the fuel cell power plants can give operational flexibility with the operators in central control centers by utilizing them efficiently. As intermediate power generation sources, fuel cell power plants may replace coal-fired or nuclear units under forced outage or on maintenance. For the PV power backup the batteries’ discharge rate is irregular and their full capacity may usually not be consumed. So, it is difficult to design an ideal capacity of the battery systems for support of the PV power variations and to economically run them. Instead of batteries fuel cell power plants show diverse operational flexibility for either a PV power backup or a support of power system operation.

 

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