Clean Technology 


Retailers deploying fuel cells to lower energy costs, reduce emissions

What do Cabela’s, Whole Foods Market and Walmart all have in common? They are among the retailers using fuel cells to lower their electricity costs while also reducing carbon emissions, according to a study by Fuel Cells 2000, a non-profit educational organization.


The report, “The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Why Top Companies are Purchasing Fuel Cells Today,” details the initiatives of 38 national companies that are deploying or demonstrating fuel cells. The study also makes a case for fuel cell technology, noting that fuel cells generate electricity with low to zero emissions and provide not only environmental savings, but productivity improvements via time, cost and manpower savings. 


Also, when the fuel cell is situated near the point of use, waste heat can be captured for cogeneration, where it can be used to provide hot water, space heating or cooling. This type of combined heat and power (CHP) installation can deliver 80% to 90% overall fuel efficiency. Heat can also be used for refrigeration using absorption chillers, as many supermarkets installing fuel cells are opting to do.


Here are some of the retail deployments highlighted in the report: 


• High electricity rates in the Northeast led Cabela’s to investigate alternative energy options, and the outdoor apparel and gear chain subsequently installed four fuel cells at its newly constructed, 185,000-sq.-ft. store in East Hartford, Conn. 


The cells (UTC Power 200kW) provide 100% of the required building power and reduce carbon emissions by 1,800 tons annually. When there is an excess, Cabela’s is able to sell electricity back to the grid.


• Walmart Canada’s new distribution center in Balzac, Alberta, uses hydrogen fuel cells instead of traditional lead acid batteries in its entire fleet of 71 material handling vehicles. The chain estimates that using the fuel cells as a power source will reduce C02 emissions from the vehicle fleet by 55% annually, and will also improve productivity and result in a cost-avoidance of an estimated $1.3 million over five years.


• In the United States, Walmart is deploying fuel cell-powered pallet trucks and lift trucks at several distribution centers. In addition, fuel cells (400kW, from Bloom Energy) provide primary power at two Walmart locations in Southern California. 


• HEB Groceries has deployed 14 fuel cell-powered reach trucks at its distribution center in San Antonio.


• Staples installed a fuel cell (300-kW, from Bloom Energy) in 2008 at its distribution center in Ontario, Calif. In the first year, the project generated more than 2 million kilowatt-hours of power with availability above 99%, and resulted in the reduction of 2.5 million lbs. of carbon dioxide. 


• Star Market in Chestnut Hill, Mass., has a fuel cell (400-kW, from UTC Power) that delivers 90% of its energy. The hot water byproduct is used to heat the store and is run through an absorption chiller and used to improve the efficiency of the store’s air-conditioning system. Total energy consumption within the store is expected to decline 211,000 kilowatt-hours annually. 


• Whole Foods Market has installed fuel cells (from UTC Power) at two stores: one in Glastonbury, Conn., and another in Dedham, Mass. The chain plans to install a third, in a store to be built in San Jose, Calif., with the cells’ thermal energy byproduct to be used for heating, cooling and refrigeration needs. The grocer has also installed fuel cell-powered forklifts at its warehouse in Landover, Md.


• Wegmans is converting the entire lift truck floor at its warehouse in Pottsville, Pa., to fuel cells. Throughout 2011 and 2012, the supermarket operator plans to expand its use of hydrogen fuel technology at the Pottsville facility, and eventually up to 150 pieces of equipment will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. 


mwilson@chainstoreage.com

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