"Just in Time?"

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One of you used the phrase, "Just in time", recently and it sparked this question:

Not too long ago, we heard on this forum about a Fuel Cell that would provide for the residential electricity needs of a single home (about 7 KW as I recall). The prototype is currently in test at the home of a NY state rural co-op employee and runs on hydrogen. The consumer version is to run on natural gas or propane and is to be available in 1999. The story has also been reported in the Texas rural co-op magazine.

We've all pretty much agreed that electricity is the show stopper for Y2K, so what happens if a large number of residences not only have power, but are able to feed their excess back into the grid (at night for example), in effect creating a decentralized power grid? Unless my arithmetric is really screwy, a mere one million of these would provide 7 billion watts or 7,000 Megawatts!

I suspect that the manufacturing capability of our society could handle this easily, and in the time remaining too! I also have a much easier time believing that this could be done than that all the Y2K problems in the grid identified and resolved before "New Year's Evil".

If this fuel cell is in fact delivered and installed to a significant number of homes during 1999, how might it affect the Y2K situation?

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), December 29, 1998


Links, Hardliner?

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 29, 1998.

Here ya go.

http://www.plugpower.com/ http://www.ercc.com

Good to hear from you again, Hardliner.

-- Lisa (nomail@work.com), December 29, 1998.

Saw a companion article in Pop Mechanics/Sci/Illustrated....you know, one of them. It is EXTREMELY interesting, and not really very big. Just fairly expensive at about 3-5 kilo bucks (as quoted in whatever the mag was. I just "perused" it in the check out line)


-- Chuck a night driver (rienzoo@en.com), December 29, 1998.

I don't have figures on average U.S. household electric power use, but in my one-bedroom apartment, my use is about 330 kWh per month, which works out to an average round-the-clock draw of about 500 watts.

7,000 megawatts / 500 watts per one-bedroom apartment = 14 million one-bedroom apartments.

I presume that 7 kW rating for the fuel cell is a maximum. Can it be sustained indefinitely, if refueled?

>The consumer version is to run on natural gas or propane

How reliable will natural gas and propane delivery to consumers be if there are significant Y2K disruptions in the power grid and elsewhere?

How long will a typical propane storage tank allow a fuel cell to generate 7 kW without replenishment?

-- No Spam Please (anon@ymous.com), December 29, 1998.

# # # 19981229


I spoke with several Detroit Edison ( DTE ) executives and engineers in July ( at a public hearing re Y2K: DTE and Consumers Power utilities ) about these home fuel cells. He acknowledged that although they are practical and available, they could "never" be manufactured and distributed on any significant scale before 01/01/00!

If I can locate that information I'll post it.

Regards, Bob Mangus # # #

-- Robert Mangus (rmangus@mail.netquest.com), December 29, 1998.

Regarding creating a decentralized power grid, Jim Lord, back in July or August did a write-up on the subject, though not on the specific method you posted. Essentially, he said that the great danger to the naitons 4 regional grids was the automated control system used for generation and distribution which is extensively interconnected. He met with Rick Cowles to examine the concept of what he called "isolating the problem" which entailed breaking up the 4 big grids into very many smaller ones, which he referred to as "mini-grids".

From a technical standpoint it may be feasible, but the political obstacles and jurisdictional boundaries (in other words all of the BS) must be handled to pull it off, assuming it is really possible. Since he wrote about this, I haven't heard or seen anything more about it. If I do I'll post it.

-- Rob Michaels (sonofdust@net.com), December 29, 1998.

Couple of problems here... that 7KW unit isn't scheduled to be available until 2000, according to the company's website http://www.plugpower.com/. If it were available earlier, it might interest those of us who have decided a generator is just too much noise, expense, work, and trouble.

As far as feeding excess power into the grid, if SCADA is down, the grid will be - right?

-- Ned (entaylor@cloudnet.com), December 29, 1998.

Some "first thoughts" as answers:

No Spam Please - If everyone acted like it was an "emergency", I'll bet we could get by on a lot less than 500 watts around the clock! Would you believe 250? And, how many folks could you get into that one-bedroom apartment under "emergency" conditions? How low could we go?

The 7 KW rating is for the residential unit. The article in the Texas Co-op magazine references a $1000 rebate on a 200 KW unit from ONSI Corp. And, the Plug Power website cites 40,000 hours between routine maintenance services.

Fuel supply is indeed a critical issue, but a unit that runs on methanol (see www.plugpower.com) could be supplied indefinitely with a home still and if everyone practiced a little thrift, it could go a long way toward a transition to another supply chain/method.

Bob Mangus - What do you suppose that guy who said, never to you would say if the Secretary of Energy told him he had a bank account with 10 billion dollars in it and he didn't have to give back whatever was left over on 1/1/00 if he had "X" number of units installed?

Rob and Ned - If everyone (or even a lot of folks) had power at home, how relevant would the grid be? Could we maybe get by without it until the industry got SCADA software up to snuff enough to handle the "distributed" sourcing?

Our absolute Y2k showstopper is time. As they say, 9 women can't make a baby in one month. The question here though is, can a lot of effort by a diverse group of people make enough fuel cells and get them installed in time to prevent what could be a calamity of unprecedented proportions. Y2K has to be fixed by programmers and all the well intentioned plumbers in the USA can't help much. But making fuel cells and moving them and installing them seems to me more in line with the society that built entire ocean going vessels in 24 hours. I know more than a little about our technology and I honestly don't see how we can possibly get Y2K fixed in time. I also know more than a little about men under pressure. Give them an achievable objective and motivate them properly and it will happen even if the objective is herculean and costs nearly all that they have. I think it could be done, but the real question is whether or not it would give us enough breathing room to fix Y2K. That little number is not going away.

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), December 29, 1998.

Amazing, to think that the Amish have lived so long and so well without electricity at all.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), December 29, 1998.

"I also know more than a little about men under pressure. Give them an achievable objective and motivate them properly and it will happen even if the objective is herculean and costs nearly all that they have."

This enterprise would dwarf the Manhattan Project. I think it's workable -- but it would take both real leadership and a serious willingness to sacrifice profit and mobilize resources. Neither of which is much in evidence these days.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), December 30, 1998.

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