Most of the homes in the United States get their electricity from their local, state or regional utility companies, while a small (but growing) segment of the population acquires their electrical needs through alternative methods such as generators, solar, or wind turbines. Advancements in technology and scientific R&D continue to look into new ways for producing electricity in efficient and sustainable ways. Fuel cells are one of these technologies that could possibly change the residential electric market in the near future.
Fuel cells are a stationery/portable form of power production that creates clean, energy efficient electricity. The process uses hydrogen and oxygen that produces water as a by-product. The basic fuel cell consists of thin ceramic materials sandwiched together multiple times inside of a sealed container. The size of a fuel cell will determine how much electricity it can produce. Currently small scale fuel cells are successfully being used in forklifts and other small machinery.
On a larger scale companies like Dominion Bridgeport Fuel Cell located in Bridgeport, CT have begun using fuel cells to provide electricity to the grid as of Dec. 27, 2013. They are currently producing 14.9 megawatts of electricity using an electro-chemical process that efficiently converts natural gas into electricity. To put that into perspective one megawatt can power 1,000 homes.
Recently, General Electric opened up a new facility in Malta, NY to tackle the issue of powering homes with fuel cells. One system they currently are working on consists of 60 fuel cells producing 6 kilowatts that can provide power to six homes. The goal of the pilot facility is to replicate these fuel cells making them a realistic, low cost option for consumers. The research is also helping to improve the efficiency of the fuel cell, which is currently rated at 65%. While there is still much to learn and room for improvement, the future looks bright for fuel cells.