To produce electricity, Bloom Energy's fuel cells could use natural gas, renewable natural gas,...

To produce electricity, Bloom Energy's fuel cells could use natural gas, renewable natural gas, or hydrogen.

Photo: SoCalGas

Southern California Gas Co. has begun powering two of its largest Los Angeles-area facilities with Bloom Energy solid oxide fuel cells. The switch to fuel cells will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollutants, and the cost of power, as well as provide reliable electricity independent of the power grid, according to the utility fleet.

To produce electricity, Bloom Energy's fuel cells could use natural gas, renewable natural gas, or hydrogen. The fuel cells at SoCalGas intake natural gas and oxygen, and through an electrochemical reaction, produce electricity without any combustion. Bloom Energy Servers can operate at 60% efficiency and are considered one of the most efficient power solutions currently available. 

"Using Bloom Energy's fuel cells for our facilities is yet another way that SoCalGas is demonstrating our commitment to be an industry leader supporting a 21st century energy system," said Maryam Brown, president of SoCalGas. "These onsite generation systems will provide clean, affordable and resilient energy to key facilities so that we can ensure safe and reliable service to our 22 million customers."

In addition to providing cost savings and improving reliability of power, the fuel cells will lead to a reduction in carbon emissions by 683 metric tons per year compared to the current grid profile – which is like eliminating annual GHG emissions produced by the electricity use of 112 homes. Because no fuel is burned to produce the electricity, smog-forming pollutants and particulate matter are reduced by more than 99%. And, because they virtually eliminate all combustion-related pollutants, the California Air Resources Board has certified the Bloom Energy Servers as a Distributed Generation Technology that do not require a generation permit, a designation given only to the cleanest technologies in the state.

"I am delighted to see SoCalGas has chosen Pico Rivera to showcase this exciting new technology," said Sen. Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera). "It is no longer up for debate; hydrogen will be a part of California's clean energy future. I have fought for investments in both hydrogen infrastructure and clean transportation programs in the California Legislature and I will continue to do so. I am proud of SoCalGas for taking the initiative and bringing these investments to the 32nd Senate District and I look forward to continuing to work with them as we pursue our clean energy goals."

Adoption of distributed power generation solutions, also called distributed energy resources, is a growing trend in the U.S. These solutions can combine environmental benefits and the ability to provide uninterrupted power in the event of natural disasters or outages. While SoCalGas uses solar generation at six of its 113 facilities, the company selected the fuel cell solution for its Monterey Park and Pico Rivera facilities for their superior resiliency.

The Bloom Energy Servers at each of SoCalGas' facilities total 950 kilowatts in size, replacing over 90% of the baseload power that would otherwise come from the grid. The Servers are configured as AlwaysON Microgrids.  Microgrids are a distributed power supply that are always-on – operating alongside the main grid and independently during an outage. Bloom Energy has deployed its Servers at 600 sites globally, and more than 85 of those are microgrids, which have powered through over 1,500 outages.

The environmental benefits of switching to fuel cells at these facilities are part of SoCalGas' vision to be the cleanest gas utility in North America, and support a 21st century energy system that provides clean, affordable, resilient and integrated energy.  As part of its vision, the utility last year committed to replacing 5% of natural gas supplies to its core customers with renewable natural gas (RNG) by 2022 and 20%  by 2030. 

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