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R&D for a Competitive Power Industry

Fortnightly Magazine - July 1 1996

Topics such as electromagnetic fields, global climate change, toxicology, and air quality studies will continue as industry-wide problems, attracting financial support from utilities, typically through multiple-funder projects.

. Nuclear Power. Plant owners and operators, will continue to need publicly accepted solutions to common problems, requiring continued R&D support, probably through large funding pools.

In the past the Electric Power Research Institute has performed an admirable job of attacking such problems, and it is expected in the future to provide the funding vehicle of choice for many such tasks.

Onsite Generation

Funding Fuel Cells

Distributed (onsite) generation marks the one area of power production that will likely continue to secure financial support from electric utilities for R&D. Among the various options, fuel cells appear of greatest interest:

. reliability (no moving parts)

. environmental advantages (low emissions when fueled by natural gas)

. versatility (providing onsite heating, for instance).

The government and utilities have supported fuel-cell R&D for decades, but the product has always lagged the market, remaining a modest increment away from being economical. However, the situation may change with the advent of PEM (proton exchange membrane) cells, which appear to offer a better potential for economic commercial application, possibly in the next five years or so.

In a competitive environment, the question for utilities is how and how much to fund fuel-cell development.

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