— by Kendal Asuncion
The energy transformation we are building to protect our future in California promises to fundamentally change how we power our buildings. As we strive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, cities and counties across the state are taking measures to electrify our diverse building stock, from our homes to commercial properties. Los Angeles is taking steps to ensure its buildings achieve net-zero emissions. Different types of buildings will need different sets of solutions and support to fully electrify. Office and industrial buildings, for example, will need to ensure access to reliable and resilient power for their tenants. Solid oxide fuel cells are a future-proof solution to support their clean energy transition while delivering reliability and resilience.
Building electrification will result in an increased demand for electricity that our already overburdened power grid is ill-equipped to support. In commercial buildings, space heaters, boilers, and water heaters are some of the primary end-uses that will transition to all-electric models. Many commercial and industrial customers such as hospitals, prisons, and data centers cannot risk losing power, especially as California approaches another summer with an anticipated electricity shortfall. In fact, the California Energy Commission estimates that California may need as much as 4000 megawatts of additional energy resources to meet demand in September of this year. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events as a consequence of climate change is already threatening businesses with more frequent and lengthier outages.
Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are essential to building electrification and achieving net-zero, yet as intermittent sources, they are best utilized when combined with other clean and resilient energy technologies. Solid oxide fuel cells, such as those used in Bloom Energy’s platform, are uniquely positioned to support building electrification and enable adopters to future-proof themselves during the grid transformation. They create on-site electricity from fuels like natural gas, biogas, and hydrogen through an electrochemical reaction without combustion. When configured as a microgrid, fuel cells enhance the reliability and resilience of electrified buildings in the face of outages and can also complement other non-combustion resources like wind, solar, and batteries. As a reliability and resilience solution, they help businesses adapt to the effects of climate change – as a clean solution, they help businesses meet their climate goals.
Since they generate electricity without combusting fuel, solid oxide fuel cells are much cleaner and more sustainable than conventional combustion-based technologies. Moreover, fuel cells provide a constant output of power, making them ideal for commercial operations with a consistent load profile that cannot risk outages. They can effectively and efficiently support building electrification while offering a much cleaner alternative to diesel back-up generation. Diesel exhaust contains over forty toxic chemicals, including carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic, and formaldehyde, as well as ozone-depleting nitrogen oxide. While diesel generators release harmful air pollutants locally and emit greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, solid oxide fuel cells can improve local air quality by reducing the emission of harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides by over 99 percent.
Bloom Energy’s fuel cell platform is particularly well positioned to bridge the energy transition due to its futureproof, fuel-agnostic design. As promising clean fuels like zero-carbon hydrogen come to scale, solid oxide fuel cells will enable the energy transition. Our installations can seamlessly transition from using natural gas to biogas from organic waste or zero-carbon green hydrogen with minimal retooling. This way, Los Angeles’ office and industrial buildings can take advantage of cleaner power today while preparing themselves for a zero-emissions tomorrow.
Building electrification and fuel cells offer significant environmental, operational, and public health benefits. Fuel cells can support electrification by providing onsite electricity produced without combustion, which is critically important for resiliency and displacing diesel generators that currently underpin our energy transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Both are important strategies in the transition to clean energy, moving us closer to achieving our climate goals. Constructing LA’s net-zero future means both building electrification and building fuel cells.