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Fuel cell hybrid keeps juice flowing

ClearEdge Power fuel cell generates electricity from natural gas and now includes a backup battery option to keep power flowing in the case of a grid outage.

A fuel cell that runs on natural gas but can run off battery power, too. ClearEdge Power

ClearEdge Power has created a distributed power source that will keep working in a blackout.

The company today announced a line of refrigerator-size fuel cells that include a backup battery to ensure ongoing power delivery in the case of an outage. ClearEdge Power is targeting them at businesses, such as hotels or stores, or companies that want a reliable power source for a data center.

ClearEdge Power makes fuel cells that generate 5 kilowatts of electric power and heat from natural gas. But during power outages, companies are often unable to continue generating electricity, explained ClearEdge Power vice president of marketing Michael Upp. Grid-tied systems that feed electricity in the grid, such as solar panels, are designed to automatically shut off for safety reasons.

The new product line includes its current fuel cell with a lead acid battery. It has another fuel cell equipped with more power redundancy designed to run a data center or office telecommunications. The cost of the fuel cell with a battery is $56,000, which was the cost of a 5-kilowatt system without the backup, which now costs under $50,000, Upp said.

California is the main domestic market for ClearEdge fuel cells because of its high cost of electricity and incentives for cleaner sources of energy. The company had originally designed its system mainly for homeowners, but is now focusing on business customers. Adding backup power, even if it is an hour or two of emergency power, provides a more tangible benefit to grid power.

Updated on December 1 with correction to Upp's title.