California Businesses Hop on the Fuel-Cell Bandwagon

A number of California businesses — rattled by the 2000 energy crisis, with its rolling black- and brown-outs, and the state’s generally unreliable electricity grid — are turning to hydrogen fuel cells to provide a reliable and self-generated source of power. The move is fueled (ahem) by the California Public Utilities Commission’s increasingly popular Self Generation Incentive Program, which provides $66 million a year in incentive funding for green energy systems; more than 500 projects have been funded to date. Most of the fuel cells run, for the time being, on hydrogen converted from natural gas, but some businesses are finding ways of generating the hydrogen from their own waste products, creating “energy neutral” systems that produce as much power as they consume. Since fuel cells will be more expensive than standard energy sources for several years, they will require government subsidies. As Joel Makower of green energy consultancy Clean Edge puts it, fuel-cell adoption “has more to do with political will than with technological problems.”