Wind and solar power’s intermittency is one of the biggest knocks against the two burgeoning industries. As they grow in popularity and contribute an expanding amount of electricity to the grid, they pose unique challenges to utilities.
Distributed generation offers a partial solution to intermittency problems. Consuming power close to its source spares the grid from untimely peaks and troughs in renewable generation that neither correspond nor respond to the cycles of demand, and it lessens the need for additional transmission capacity.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recognizes the valuable role this technology can play in making renewables a reliable and significant contributor to the nation’s power supply and has invested heavily in its development.
In November, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced up to $30 million in funding for the Reliable Electricity Based on Electrochemical Systems (REBELS), a new program focused on the development of fuel cells. Fuel cell technology supports distributed generation by storing the power created by renewables for use at a later time.
According to the DOE, current research on fuel cells explores either high temperature technology for grid-scale application or low temperatures, typically used in cars. REBELS projects will take the middle ground by focusing on intermediate temperature fuel cells that can be used in the widespread, low-cost application of distributed generation for wind and solar power.