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4 Steps to Choosing the Right Fuel Cell Backup Power Solution for Critical Infrastructure

6 minute read
Apr. 26, 2021
Article by John Pedersen

For critical infrastructure of all kinds, reliable backup power is essential.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which sent millions of workers into work-from-home situations, has emphasized our society’s dependence on secure, reliable data communications—and put a new focus on extending backup times by improving the reliability of infrastructure backup power systems.

Case in point, in Norway, Sweden and Denmark —where advanced telecom and fiber broadband connections are widespread—pending legislation will establish minimum backup times for power and communication infrastructure. These regulations provide a framework to support unexpected power outages that could affect fire, police, medical, and other emergency communications.

Legislators in this region, and in many more around the world, understand the importance of stable predictable power for communications networks to support growth, innovation, security and stability. 

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New infrastructure investments should be zero-emission

As nations and operators invest in such infrastructure, there is an increasing emphasis on zero-emission backup power solutions. 

We believe the Ballard FCgen®-H2PM hydrogen fuel cell backup power system is the right solution for the requirements because it provides installation flexibility, lowest total operating cost, no risk, and is zero-emissions.

Choosing a backup solution: the four-step system 

For a communication infrastructure system operator, the decision to go zero-emission may seem daunting, with different factors to consider:

  • the power requirement for a specified backup power duration 
  • the physical requirements of a backup power system, and where it can be installed 
  • the refuelling requirements and associated factors 
  • the service and long-term support requirements to ensure reliability 

4J8A7177 (1)Since regulations and site power requirements presumably will continue to change, network operators need to choose a future-proof solution.

Ballard’s fuel cell backup power solutions can meet current and future legislative requirements and allow operators of electronic communication a flexible approach to harden their critical infrastructure networks.

To help operators better evaluate their needs and improve our customer journey, we have developed a Four-Step Process, outlined below, to go through when choosing Ballard’s FCgen®-H2PM backup power module.

As you’ll see, our solution is “complete”, providing all the elements you need to operate, from the fuel cells themselves to installation, fuel, and after-sales support.

Step 1: Evaluate your backup power requirements

How much power are you providing backup for? Your backup power requirements determine the capacity, and number of FCgen®-H2PM modules you will need. 

The FCgen®-H2PM is available in 1.7 kW and 5 kW modules, which can be coupled in parallel to meet power output requirements from 1.7 kW to 60 kW. 

Step 2: Select the location for the fuel cell backup power system 

Ballard systems can be installed indoors in racks, or in outdoor cabinets, or shelters.  These can all be customized to meet specific needs. A key advantage of fuel cell backup power systems is that they can be easily relocated when needed. 

Some of our customers prefer to build new installations, while others (like our customers Telia and Telenor) are switching from battery to fuel cell backups, and we are retrofitting Ballard equipment into existing facilities. 

Step 3: Calculate the length of backup time you require

The length of backup time that you require will determine the amount of hydrogen that you need to store on site to ensure a reliable, constant fuel supply. Our goal is to simplify the hydrogen supply and storage process for our customers, which is a critical aspect of the overall solution.

The hydrogen is stored in specialized shelters, containing five or nine hydrogen cylinders, which can be expanded as necessary. One standard 50 liter 300 bar hydrogen cylinder provides 4.5 hours of backup time at 3.5 kilowatts. 

We work in close collaboration with leading gas companies, including Strandmøllen and Linde, who can supply green hydrogen solutions and the logistics to support your backup time requirements.

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Step 4: From installation to long-term support, select your service partners and strategy 

Many aspects of a fuel-cell backup system can be customized, either by Ballard or by one of our trained partners. As an example,  we signed a collaboration agreement with Eltek in December 2020 to provide reliable backup power solutions for telecom networks and other critical communication infrastructure, with a focus on Nordic countries.

Ballard always participates in the initial design and installation. If required, we collaborate with local engineers and installers and help train local service personnel. 

The level of post-installation service and support that we provide is unique in the industry, and our customers can choose either or both of the following options:

  • Ballard Customer Care offers flexible service packages, with performance warranties, to support your system and ensure its performance over its service lifetime.
  • We offer a complete Ballard-certified training program for your staff, or to upgrade the skills of local suppliers. Once your people have been certified by Ballard, they have the skills they need to support your backup power system. 

Ballard Customer Care has maintained service levels even during COVID-19 related lockdowns. Service technicians have travelled from our European headquarters in Hobro, Denmark—even going into self-isolation in hotels in Norway—to visit customer sites for essential service. 

Making backup simple (1)Ballard’s Four-Step System

The four-step system is unique to Ballard, providing a complete and simple solution for our backup power customers. And the high flexibility of different solutions to choose is also unique to other systems on the market. Combining the flexibility with the reliability of Ballard’s products, together with top level customer care and training truly places a Ballard backup power system as a leading contender. 

Fuel cell backup systems: reliability, zero emissions and the lowest TCO 

While diesel and battery power are widely used for communication infrastructure backup power, their limitations are well known. For critical infrastructure, fuel cell backup power systems are more reliable than batteries for long-duration backups.

They generate zero emissions, unlike fossil fuel burning backup systems. And over the system’s lifetime they offer a far lower TCO than batteries, and an attractive CAPEX and OPEX compared to diesel generators—because of their long lifetime and far lower maintenance costs. 

Read more: Improving Infrastructure Resilience With Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Proven reliability for over a decade

Ballard fuel systems are proven in critical applications. After more than a decade, and millions of hours of operation, they show a reliability of 99.9999%. They are the future-proof, flexible solution for longer backups—with the flexibility to relocate the backup system when needed. 

CE marked for unrestricted trading

Ballard’s fuel cell backup power products are CE marked. This certifies that our solutions meet high safety, health and environmental protection requirements—and can be traded in the EEA without restrictions.

View the Four-Step System Video

We are now offering a video walk-through of the Four-Step System for planning a critical infrastructure power backup system, below. 

Final thoughts

There’s never been a more important time to improve the protection of our data infrastructure systems. From the growth in work-from-home situations to increasing extreme weather, recent events have emphasised how reliant we are on having secure, dependable backup power for critical communication networks.

Powered by hydrogen fuel cells, Ballard’s industry-leading, complete backup power solution provides the reliability operators need to ensure continuous power supply for our most important communication networks. 


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Want more details on Ballard's fuel cell backup power solutions?

Access this brochure which shares what you need to consider before investing in fuel cell backup power. No email required. 

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