The Answer To American Electric Grid Reliability Is Fuel Cells

Perhaps most critically, fuel cells provide a vital layer of national security...

Neil Chatterjee is the author via RealClear Wire


In 1932, Americans were slogging through the third year of the Great Depression. A presidential candidate spoke about 'the importance of electricity in our current social order.

Our homes, places of employment and streets are lit by it. The wheels of the majority of our vehicles and factories are powered by electricity. It can be used in our homes for more than just lighting. It is a necessity.

Ninety-years later, the national quest to meet Franklin Roosevelt's 'necessity" remains inexplicably unattainable.

The United States faces an uncertain future, where power shortages will threaten our economy. Data centers are one of the fastest-growing industries. The consumption of electricity in this industry is increasing.

Expected to double

By the end of this decade, we will have a surplus of 500,000 solar panels. The rise in temperatures in many areas of the country and the severity of storms are also contributing to the increase in demand. People's last refuge in extreme weather conditions is at risk.

The problem is rooted in long-standing obstacles to a more efficient electricity distribution and transmission system.

As this is unfolding, politicians are becoming increasingly nervous. They speak of the 'grid' with increasing alarm and fear that they will have to explain to their constituents why an investor has chosen to go somewhere else, or why there was no air conditioning for them in August.

Fuel cells are the answer.

Fuel cells can be compared to standalone power plants. When clustered, they can produce power ranging from a few hundred Kilowatts up to many tens and even hundreds of Megawatts. This is enough to power large industrial complexes, or entire residential areas, without the need for transmission and distribution. Fuel cells produce clean electricity by converting natural fuels into a noncombustible form. This same technology can be used to create clean hydrogen using renewable electricity.

Fuel cells are a great alternative to transmission lines.

This type of distributed power generation (i.e., non-centralized) allows the end user to rest assured, knowing that they have avoided the pitfalls of conventional transmission and distribution lines. They also offer improved electrical security. Distributed power generation, i.e. non-centralized, allows end users to relax, knowing that they've avoided the pitfalls of traditional transmission and distribution lines, and are generally insulated from violent storms and power outages.

Fuel cells, when given access to a local grid, can also be used as a source of power in an emergency.

Fuel cells can serve as a community asset by enhancing the power grid, providing certainty to local businesses and, most importantly, delivering reliable power to homeowners.

Fuel cells can be used by hospitals to continue life-saving operations without interruption. They are quiet and do not emit air pollution.

You should also consider reliability.

Fuel cells are also environmentally friendly and have many benefits.

Fuel cells are able to generate electricity without combustion and process biogas, natural gas, and hydrogen much more efficiently than other sources of electricity. Fuel cells produce less carbon dioxide when compared to other clean energy sources. Independent studies have shown switching to fuel cells from traditional electricity sources results in a significant reduction of carbon emissions. This helps us achieve our decarbonization targets faster.

Fuel cells are a crucial layer for national security.

Since World War I militaries have targeted energy generation systems, believing that denying an enemy the ability to wage warfare can cripple their ability. The Allied bombings of Nazi Germany fuel plants were so successful, Hitler's army was forced to use oxen for transporting arms to the frontlines. Cyberattacks are also a threat, which has been introduced by modern technology, negating the use of planes, bombs and other conventional weapons. According to the headlines of today, eliminating energy sources remains a serious threat for U.S. allies. Fuel cells are distributed, so there isn't a single central source of power for several important manufacturing facilities. While long, elevated transmission lines are a prime target for bombers and other aircraft, fuel cells transmit energy underground, often near the end user.

The public debate over grid reliability today is a pointless scuffle between environmentalists and those who prioritize economic growth. Fuel cells are the perfect solution for the U.S., its allies, and the world to provide enough energy to fuel industries of the future, boost defense against attacks and lead the world towards a carbon-free tomorrow. Here is the solution. It is a question of whether elected leaders are going to enact policies which deliver the 'definite need' Franklin Roosevelt talked about: the reliability in electric power that Americans deserve.

Neil Chatterjee, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member and lawyer, is a well-known energy expert. He was also an energy adviser to Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell.