COMPONENTS OF THE ENERGY WEB
Fuel cells produce electricity using an electrochemical process with no combustion or environmental side effects. A processor or internal catalyst within the fuel cell converts natural gas to a hydrogen-rich fuel. The gas and air flow over an anode and cathode to produce DC electricity, which is converted to AC current by a power conditioner. Fuel cells range in size from 3 kilowatts for residential homes to 200 kilowatts for commercial offices, to several megawatts for utility plants. The waste heat generated by fuel cells also can be used for heating and air conditioning. The by-products of fuel cells are heat, water, and carbon dioxide, making them an environmentally friendly. A typical four-bedroom home using 15,000 kilowatts of electricity that converts to a fuel cell would have the same environmental benefits as removing two cars from the state's highways. Commercial fuel cells are available now. Residential sized units are still under development with progress focused on size and cost reductions, as well as performance improvements. For maximum residential marketability, the consensus is that the size should be about one-third of the current size, or as small as a central air conditioning unit. Performance improvements are targeting design of the electrochemical process that converts the gas to hydrogen. Costs are expected to decrease as production volumes increase.
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