This issue involves an economic comparison between traditional diesel generator and fuel cell backup power systems. The long history of diesel generators allows considerably more accurate information on capital costs and operational costs to be available. This is in marked contrast to the fuel cell cost information, which contains much more conjecture and is, therefore, far less precise. Some of the factors to be considered include:
· Installed First Costs - including site preparation and the basic capital cost of generator equipment & accessories.
· Installation Costs - including planning, engineering and testing.
· Underground Fuel Storage Tank Costs - including monthly monitoring charges.
· Recurring Operational Expenses -- including maintenance, repairs, fuel and monthly tests of the engine or fuel cell.
· Safety and Regulatory Compliance - including monitoring, pollution control and reporting to governmental agencies.
The FAR provides a comparison of the installed first costs and annual recurring expenses for the diesel and fuel cell alternatives on a per kilowatt (kW) basis. For the diesel alternative, the installed first costs range from about $800 to about $1,400 per kW, while the fuel cell cost estimates vary from about $4,000 to over $20,000 per kW. Even with a 50% improvement in installed first cost, fuel cells are many times more expensive. Annual recurring expense estimates for diesel range from about $5 to about $79 per kW, while the fuel cell expense estimates vary from about $473 to about $504 per kW.
One of the fundamental reasons for the above wide ranges of results for fuel cells is the state of fuel cell technology today. Existing fuel cells have limited capacities while most typical telecommunications applications require capacities in the 30 kW (for wireless radio sites) to 1,000 kW (for wireline central offices). In addition, their long-term reliability is unproven.
As the fuel cell systems gain acceptance and broader use in all types of sizes and installations, the technical feasibility issues may be resolved. If the relative cost to the service provider can be reduced, fuel cell systems may become more economically attractive.
Currently there are a few demonstration projects which show that some of the capacity and storage problems can be solved. However, the high initial capital costs will limit widespread use of fuel cell systems in telecommunications networks over the next 5-10 years.
The FAR recommends that the Commission consider encouraging use of clean diesel engines as much as possible to reduce harmful emissions and encouraging field trials of alternate energy (fuel cell, solar and wind). Such actions would have to be done in concert with other federal and state government agencies.
Backup power systems are used only during maintenance testing and when there is an outage. Such outages are infrequent. Because they are rarely operated, there is no reason to believe they are a significant source of pollutants. The FAR demonstrates that fuel cell systems are far more costly than diesel backup power systems. Thus there is no apparent reason to believe that fuel cells should be a preferred means of providing backup power at this time. However, this may change over time as the technology develops.