ClearEdge Power has addressed a proposal to the Congress for a new and interesting project. They found a way to obtain heat and power with fuel cells working on natural gas. The investment can be payed back after a six or seven year period as mentioned by Bill Sproull, senior vice president of the company.
The energy saving can be much more easily recovered by increasing the tax credits for residential fuel cells from $1000 per kilowatt to $3000 per kilowatt as per commercial installations. Sproull noted the discrepancy as residential scale solar power got its cap lifted completely in the February stimulus package. If the same thing would apply to fuel cells through a tax bill unrelated to the controversial cap-and-trade energy bill the project could face a relatively low hurdle.
The natural gas fuel cells called CE5 units are under tests at the Hillsboro Oregon headquarters, and also at a fire station and at a McDonald’s restaurant in Portland. Two CE5 units are already up and running in the state – one in a private home in Palm Desert offering incentives for home fuel cells, and the other in the Menlo Park office space of Kohlberg & Co. James Kohlberg, the head of Kohlberg & Co invested about $40 million into ClearEdge. Other investors include Applied Materials’ venture arm Applied Ventures.
Even if CE5s are not using renewable power, as they burn natural gas, they still qualify for various government incentives. But the cells are more efficient compared to burning natural gas for electricity. As the heat is captured, the system could save between $6,000 to $12,000 a year.
Compared to wind or solar power, fuel cells can run all the time but the cost is still high compared to burning natural gas in big turbines serving established grids. Nevertheless they emit less carbon, fact which could increase their value over time. ClearEdge has developed small scale fuel cells but large ones are already on the market and these are produced already by several companies like United Technologies, Ballard Power Systems and Plug Power.