San Diego Gas & Electric's new hydrogen fuel cell generator will operate automatically should the grid go down.
(TNS) — At first glance, it looks like a storage refrigerator you might see in somebody’s garage — and it runs just as quietly.
But the GenCell G5rx is a hydrogen fuel cell generator that is part of a compact system using the latest technology to help companies like San Diego Gas & Electric reduce disruptions during power outages.
“When the grid is off, this is on,” said Gil Shavit, chairman of GenCell, the company that has contracted to deliver more than two dozen G5rx systems to SDG&E.
Each platform is compact — taking up about 8 feet by 9 feet — but can produce 5 kilowatts of auxiliary power that operates automatically should the grid go down. The fuel cell emits no CO2 and runs 10 times longer than existing backup power sources.
“This will be friendlier for our customers because they’re not going to be hearing big diesel generators going off in the middle of the night,” said George DeLucas, an electrician at SDG&E who took part in a demonstration of the G5rx Thursday.
“And it’s a smaller footprint. You won’t have this big, massive generator sitting out in the middle of our substations.”
By design, all substations are equipped with backup lead acid batteries that open up circuit breakers upon sensing a power loss.
During prolonged outages, SDG&E will typically roll out a generator to a substation, but the GenCell technology promises to recharge batteries until the grid comes back online.
Fueled by standard cylinders of industrial-grade hydrogen, the G5rx also allows SDG&E to analyze and monitor substations from remote locations while providing quick start-up once the power outage ends.
Based in Israel, GenCell has taken advantage of innovations that eliminate platinum with a graphite construction to drastically reduce costs. The company recently installed backup fuel systems for the Israel Electric Corporation, that country’s largest power provider.
Impressed with the technology, SDG&E officials ordered 30 G5rx systems, becoming the first utility in the U.S. to partner with GenCell.
“Previously we only had the capacity to first restore our critical customers — our hospitals, police stations, fire stations,” said Amber Albrecht, SDG&E spokesperson. “Now with the GenCell fuel cell, we have extended capacity, which means we could be able to restore every customer served by that substation earlier.”
SDG&E plans to roll out three of the G5rx units this year. The remaining 27 will be installed over the next three years. SDG&E has 136 distribution substations in its service area.
Shavit said each system is listed at $97,000.
Unlike diesel backup systems, the G5 technology emits only water, something SDG&E finds attractive as California utilities strive to meet the state’s ambitious climate directives.
©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.