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UCSD to receive $11M in incentives to install $16M fuel cell

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The University of California, San Diego will receive $11 million in incentives for the installation of a fuel cell energy generation and storage system through California’s Self-Generation Incentive program.

The award is the largest incentive ever doled out by the California Public Utilities Commission for a renewable energy product and is the nation’s first advanced energy storage project to receive state incentive funds.

The system includes a 2.8-megawatt fuel cell and a 2.8-megawatt storage system, together costing an estimated $16 million.

The system will allow UCSD to store power generated during times of low demand and draw on the power during high demand.

The fuel cell is the largest that is commercially available and will be installed by Encinitas-based BioFuels Energy LLC.

FuelCell Energy Inc. of Danbury, Conn., is the manufacturer of the system, which will convert purified methane gas into electricity without combustion.

Fuel cells produce energy by separating the electrons and protons of a fuel, such as methane gas, forcing electrons to travel through a circuit that converts them into electrical power.

The cells operate continuously as long as the reactant fuel is replenished. Methane-powered fuel cells are already in operation at landfills, wastewater treatment plants and several breweries throughout the nation.

The methane gas will be collected at the city of San Diego’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, purified, compressed and delivered to UCSD by BioFuels Energy. The wastewater treatment plant’s methane is currently burned off as waste.

Waste heat generated by the fuel cell will also be used to cool campus buildings. The system is expected to be completed in 2010.

“The fuel cell integrated with energy storage is the centerpiece project for UC San Diego providing global leadership in smart grid initiatives,” said Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives for UCSD.

Installation of the fuel cell and storage system is in line with UCSD’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint through energy efficiency and utilization of renewable resources. The campus has one of the nation’s most sophisticated microgrid systems, generating 80 percent of the university’s electricity needs with a 30-megawatt gas turbine plant and 1-megawatt of photovoltaic solar panels.

The fuel cell and storage system will reduce the university’s carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 8,200 tons per year.

California Center for Sustainable Energies, which administers the CPUC’s Self-Generation Incentive within San Diego Gas & Electric’s service area announced the award.

“Advanced energy storage lets us take the best advantage of renewable generation resources and at the same time, it can improve the reliability of the electric system and ensure the level of power quality that a modern society requires,” said Andrew McAllister, director of programs for CCSE. “CCSE and UCSD have been advocates for inclusion of advanced energy storage in incentive programs as an important way to develop this new marketplace. CCSE is please to partner with UCSD on this and many other projects.”

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