Fuel Cell Backup Power: Solution for Critical Infrastructure?

4 minute read
Aug. 15, 2018
Article by Jesper Themsen

Today, no country can afford to be without power for long. And if a power outage does happen, what then?

Creating guidelines and legislation is essential in ensuring no country hit by power outages is left without critical communication infrastructure. And putting the right backup power systems in place is an integral part of any plan.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the state of critical infrastructure backup in Scandinavia, and look at the benefits of fuel cell backup power systems as a solution.

Click here to learn why fuel cell backup power is the best solution for  Scandinavia's critical infrastructure >>

fuel cell backup power 

What Actions is Scandinavia Taking to Protect Critical Infrastructure?

In Scandinavia, the critical communication infrastructure is advanced and supports integral parts of the region’s everyday life. These include optical fibre, telecom, emergency communication networks, and more.

Europe as a whole is starting to take a closer look at the importance of critical infrastructure, including backup power for critical sites.

The evolving legislation in Scandinavian countries is a great example of this.

Generally, countries are moving toward more reliable and longer backup, and Scandinavia is at the forefront. For example, after experiencing several lengthy power interruptions, Norway is moving toward mandatory longer backup times. Key network nodes are being hardened to increase the number of backup hours and improve site availability.

Similarly, Sweden is introducing legislation requiring between 12 and 24 hours of backup on key nodes for fiber broadband and telecom networks, starting in 2020.

In Denmark, no legislation has been issued yet. However, most fiber broadband operators, as well as the SINE networks, are already using innovative backup power solutions, such as fuel cell technology.

What Are the Available Backup Power Solutions?

Around the world, most backup power systems are currently powered by either diesel generators or batteries.

But even though diesel generators are suitable for high power requirements and long backup time, the high Capital Expenditure (CAPEX), high Operational Expenditure (OPEX), and reliability issues are often a concern.

In contrast, batteries become more competitive for sites that need less energy. Batteries, however, are sensitive to temperature changes, so their lifetime could be shorter than expected, and therefore less reliable. Furthermore, battery banks may require a significant footprint, especially for longer backup time. This makes it difficult to upgrade according to energy demands or new legislation.

The Better Answer: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Backup

Hydrogen fuel cell backup power solutions offer the best of both diesel and battery solutions. They are Direct Current (DC) power generators that use a reliable electro-chemical process to generate electricity on demand.  

Ballard’s FCgen®-H2PM solution has proven its reliability over more than ten years in field operation. Some of the solution’s key benefits are:

  • lower total cost of ownership
  • high flexibility
  • environmentally friendly
  • no degradation during standby period.

With more than ten years experience in producing and servicing FCgen®-H2PM systems, Ballard has proven the reliability of fuel cell backup power. In fact, our systems have achieved 100%  reliability on several deployments.

Because diesel, battery, and fuel cell solutions all have advantages and disadvantages, it’s essential to determine which solution is most suitable, according to site needs.

The fuel cell solution becomes the most viable option for:

  • sites with less than 25 kW power requirements
  • sites that need more more than 4-6 hours of backup time

How Reliable Are Fuel Cell Backup Power Systems?

Fuel cell backup power is a proven solution that has been used for many years. There are now  thousands of systems installed worldwide, with millions of operating hours.

The first commercial solution was put into service in 2007, on a Danish fiber-optic broadband network operated by Eniig. “Since then, the number of fuel cell backup power systems, serviced by Ballard, has continued to increase across Denmark.”

For example, the high, proven reliability of Ballard’s fuel cell backup power solution is one of the main reasons why the Danish public safety network, SINE, chose to use FCgen®-H2PM for their sites in 2009. Fuel cell backup power was chosen for approximately 120 critical radio stations located all over Denmark, for which Ballard also developed an integrated outdoor cabinet.

The Danish public safety network is highly critical. This is why the FCgen®-H2PM’s rapid start-up of fuel cell power was critical to ensure seamless, uninterrupted service to the police and regional emergency services, such as rescue preparedness, ambulance and fire-fighting services.

By choosing fuel cell backup power, SINE is now a reliable, low maintenance system with extended runtime, operating according to the strict guidelines outlined for the SINE network.

Conclusion: The Solution is Ready

It doesn’t matter why cities need backup power, or for how long. A fuel cell solution can be designed to provide reliable and environmentally friendly backup power that fits a variety of site configurations.

Here at Ballard Europe, we continue to invest in our technology development to ensure our products deliver reliability and performance to network operators, while remaining the European market leader.

Next Step:

Download our white paper below. From it, you'll learn about:

  • the proven performance of hydrogen fuel cell backup power systems
  • how Scandinavia can benefit from this technology
  • comparing fuel cell backup power and diesel generator or battery solutions


An Attractive Value Proposition for Zero-Emission Backup Power in Scandinavia

Discover why fuel cell backup power is the most viable solution for Scandinavia's critical communication infrastructure. 

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