This Is Snazzy

According to this press release, the municipal utility in Austin, Texas has installed a natural-gas-fired fuel cell combined heat and power system.

Austin Energy installed the 200-kilowatt fuel cell system, which also produces 900,000 BTUs of usable heat per hour, at the Rebekah Baines Johnson Health Center.

Electricity produced by the unit is fed into the Austin Energy electric grid, making it the first fuel cell in Texas to feed power to the grid. The health center is using the heat produced by the unit to heat water for the health center, helping it avoid the cost and the emissions associated with operating a natural gas-fired boiler. …

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat and water. Because hydrogen is often not readily available, the PC25 uses a fuel processor to convert hydrocarbon fuels, typically natural gas, into a hydrogen-rich stream that is fed into the fuel cell.

Note the win-win aspect here — the CHP system reduces both the cost and the pollution of heating water, by using what would otherwise be waste heat from the electricity generation process. Bit by bit, step by step, we get more autonomy and choice in our energy production and consumption. Note also that Texas has some of the best thought out distributed generation interconnection standards in the country, at which they arrived through a very collaborative process which I’ll discuss in the future.