Princeton University

School of Engineering & Applied Science

What happens when the power goes out? Power Backup System: Fuel Cells

Professor Jay B. Benziger, Princeton University
Friend Center, 109
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 7:30pm

The US produces over 4 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity every year in power plants spread around the country. We rely on a grid to delivers electricity from the power plants to the end user. The grid is a shared, centralized resource. But local delivery is impacted by many factors beyond our control. Hurricane Sandy showed that electricity can be disrupted over large areas for extended periods of time. Few will forget the "Northeast Blackout of 2003", when a failure to trim trees in Ohio set off a chain of events across the grid that ultimately cut power to 55 million people in eight U.S. states and Canada.
Dependence on the grid leaves you exposed to surges, brownouts and unexpected service interruptions. This can leave critical service provides such as hospitals, telecommunication networks, health care provides, and the suppliers of clean water with no power to service essential needs. Backup power systems are a critical complement to the grid to keep critical services functioning in times of grid failures. Diesel generators, batteries and fuel cells have all been utilized for power backup. In this lecture we will examine why fuel cells are particularly well suited for environmental conscious power backup.