Wildfires to Hurricanes: How SOFCs Augment Offgrid Power Systems

What happens when the offgrid power system you’ve installed loses access to the resources needed to create electricity?

The rise in extreme weather conditions is making this an increasingly common occurrence. We see failures of solar and wind solutions in areas that get heavy rains, overcast days and freezing temperatures, and we also see it in wildfire-prone areas.

San Francisco had this exact issue when smoke coverage from wildfires caused low sun exposure for solar panels, leaving maintainers scrambling and more than a million northern Californians suffering through blackouts.

In a recent interview, AJ Perkins, president of Instant On, discussed this issue during the 2020 Bay Area wildfires. During this time, 25% of his microgrids in the Bay Area weren’t producing enough solar because smoke was blocking out the sun, and solar production dropped by about 95% in some cases.

“One of our systems was putting out 40 kWh a day for the summer,” Perkins said. “Right now they are looking at 1.65 KWh a day because of the smoke. Another one peaked out at 12 watts; that’s enough to light one LED bulb.”

From our own experiences helping to solve customers’ uptime challenges, we recommend developing a hybrid system consisting of renewable energy solutions — like solar and wind — supported by an additional weather-proof technology.

Our Solid Oxide Fuel Cells are durable, flexible and highly energy-efficient, so they’re simple to integrate into any type of existing energy system. One of our customers is a Class I railroad that turned to us for help developing a system that would stay up during hurricane-induced grid outages along the Gulf Coast.

This railroad had previously used primary batteries for backup power during grid outages, but they required frequent replacements and at 245 pounds each, they were cumbersome to replace. This railroad switched from the heavy, single-use batteries to a hybridized offgrid system consisting of a small solar panel, rechargeable batteries and a Performer Series P250i Solid Oxide Fuel Cell to charge the batteries.

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