Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Will Bloom Energy Affect the RPS?

SB 124, a key part of the package to bring Bloom Energy to Delaware, would include the company's fuel cells in the state's renewable portfolio standard or RPS. The News Journal reports that there is some unease over broadening the renewable portfolio standard to include the fuel cells:
Some observers said lawmakers were creating a dangerous precedent by watering down the definition of a "renewable" energy resource, since the bill applies to fuel cells that use fossil fuels to operate.

"This is sort of a stretch of what is supposed to be renewable energy," said John Austin, a retired environmental scientist living in Rehoboth Beach.
How much of the RPS would be given over to Bloom Energy fuel cells? The bill would cap the allotment for fuel cells under the RPS at 1,152 megawatt hours per day, which would be 3.58 percent of Delaware’s total electricity sales in 2009. The RPS is programmed to grow to 25 percent by 2025, so the bulk of the portfolio would still go to traditional renewables like wind and solar.

The RPS provides for a portfolio of energy sources to meet our needs for cost effective clean energy and help promote new business opportunities in the green tech sector, and no single source can meet all of our policy objectives. Managing a portfolio of renewable energy sources requires tradeoffs among different interests to make the whole thing work. While this is an awkward and somewhat artificial use of the RPS, I have decided I can support the measure.

Deployment of the Bloom Energy Servers will have benefits for the environment and the grid. To the extent that these fuel cells replace coal generation (which provides about one half of our electricity) they will contribute to reductions in air emissions. Bloom Energy’s fuel cells are reportedly more efficient than conventional natural gas turbines, and their ability to be located onsite enhances their efficiency by eliminating the loss of power over transmission lines. By providing distributed baseload power, this technology will alleviate congestion on the grid and reduce our reliance on out of state power. In considering the tradeoffs, I have concluded that the benefits are worth the stretching of the RPS in this case.

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