Working on the project with Bloom, Dickinson now sees the potential for fuel cells. "What we are seeing in the industry in older areas, the Northeast in particular, is your grid is getting aged—unreliable with a bad signal. So, we're starting to see the alternatives. Fuel cells, with Bloom being one of the bigger players, can become the primary source of power, with the grid secondary," he says.
The 24/7 nature of fuel cells such as Bloom's offers utilities a base-load option and, unlike other power sources, can maintain load during maintenance. "There are six electricity-producing units in each Bloom box, so you can take one of them out of service and still keep the same production of electricity," says Stuart A. Lacy, senior project manager with Hill. "They all run a little below full capacity, so you can boost the rest of them up and put a new one in. That's compared to a co-generation plant where, if you have a problem, you're out."
Fuel Cells on Campus
Bloom's fuel-cell manufacturing plant is part of the University of Delaware's new Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. It is on the site of an old Chrysler assembly plant, which posed several construction challenges.
The school bought the property in 2009 for $24 million and began demolition in 2010. The state of Delaware had been courting Bloom to start its East Coast manufacturing in the state and announced a deal to build a facility on the brownfield site in 2011.
A $7-million grant from the state's infrastructure fund went toward the site preparation of the STAR campus, says Andy Lubin, director of real estate for the university. "The University of Delaware's responsibility was to clear the site and grade it. We also built perimeter roads and brought in utilities," Lubin notes.
In the 1950s, the Chrysler plant built tanks for the Korean War, and the massive concrete tank pads used during testing had to be located and excavated in 2011. "It was a classic type of phoenix scenario: take a manufacturing site and transform it," says Lubin.
Lubin says Bloom will continue to work closely with the school. In a statement to ENR, Alan Levin, Delaware's secretary for economic development, says, "Bloom will be providing hundreds of jobs to Delawareans and educational opportunities to students through partnerships with University of Delaware and Delaware Technical and Community College."
Thousands of Design ChangesBloom has an arrangement with local utility Delmarva to purchase the natural gas needed to run the fuel cells and sell the resulting electricity. Delmarva sees value in the constant base-load power generation Bloom Energy Servers can provide to areas that are poorly served by the existing grid. "With this project, we wanted to provide a level of reliability to our system to see what distributed generation looks like," says Gary Stockbridge, president of Delmarva. "For the most part, we have met all our objectives, and we have a good relationship with Bloom. We are looking to expand it further to see if we can create some kind of microgrid out of its station at Brookside." At Red Lion, Delmarva has an option to build an additional 20 MW.