Methanol fuel cells making inroads into the telecoms sector

An interview with SerEnergy, provider of silent and sustainable power solutions for telecom

Read this article to learn:

  • SerEnergy’s footprint, activities and production capacity
  • The different use cases of fuel cells and comparison with other sources of power generation
  • Serenergy’s fuel cell efficiencies and space requirements for indoor and outdoor scenarios
  • How to install and maintain fuel cells
  • The positive impact of fuel cells on emission reduction

SerEnergy is a manufacturer of power solutions based on methanol fuel cell systems for telecom sites. The benefits are many, among other to install both outdoor, indoor as well as on rooftop and street site due to the silent, emissions free and compact nature of the system.

TowerXchange: Please can you introduce SerEnergy

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: SerEnergy has been in the market since 2006 developing and manufacturing power systems for especially the stationary market for backup, supplementary or primary/hybrid power source. Systems are largely deployed within all areas around the world.

SerEnergy’s products are based on High Temperature PEM fuel cell technology providing the customers with highly efficient solutions (40-45% efficiency) with attractive economics and features for replacing conventional technology like diesel generators.

With a green mindset SerEnergy aims to contribute to the world’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy at the same time as overcoming some of the known obstacles within the renewable sector such as flexibility and availability.

With headquarters in Aalborg Denmark, SerEnergy is a leading fuel cell manufacturer. Owned by German company Fischer group with 2500 employees the company has a great economic platform to work from as well as the ability to support our customers within most areas worldwide.

TowerXchange: Fuel cells are not something that have been spoken about as extensively in TowerXchange discussions, can you explain what grid situations they are most suited to and how extensively they have been deployed? 

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: There are various types of methanol fuel cell systems, but in general they can be used for backup power, supplementary power or primary power.

Backup power

A lot of customers around the world always rely on being able to run communication systems. This also puts more stress on the reliability of the systems and on grid availability. This means that even if you are based in areas where loss of grid (down time) only happens every second year or less you still need a backup system that is always able to provide power so that your systems keep running. If you need longer than 6-8 hours of backup time, batteries typically become too heavy, space demanding and expensive. Traditional diesel generators offer long backup time, but for systems that are not running very often they still need to be maintained and you need to make several start-ups per year to make sure they can run in a backup situation. Our fuel cells offer great advantages in those cases since they can be used for both short and long backup time. At the same time, they are self-maintaining and even if they are not in use the systems are able to be kept in optimal conditions through self-test programs and automatic start-up cycles.

Examples are core telecom sites and security networks but also systems located in regions where you often see extreme weather and environmental conditions with earthquakes or typhoons for example causing long blackouts on the grid.

Supplementary power

In many situations and in many regions in the world you need a supplementary power system which can take over when the primary power source is not running. The system could run several hours per day or per week. This could be for regions with unreliable grid, but it could also be part of a green installation with solar panels, wind turbines or other energy sources where the fuel cells can ensure that the system is running 24/7. In many parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa the grid is highly unreliable and in order to keep telecom sites up and running you need either an alternative to grid power or a system that can run several hours a day or per week due to outages. Methanol fuel cells offer an ideal solution to conventional power sources like diesel generators due to low fuel cost and less maintenance.

Primary power

Methanol fuel cell systems are a great alternative to traditional diesel generators when it comes to providing power on off-grid sites. Typically, there are large investments involved in connecting especially remote sites to the grid, so together with the low operation cost and the relative little investment the fuel cell system can offer large cost benefits for the customers. Compared to diesel generators both maintenance and fuel cost are in most cases much lower when operating a methanol fuel cell system.

TowerXchange: What advantages do fuel cells offer above other sources of generation?

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: The fuel cell technology has several advantages compared to batteries and diesel generators especially making them suitable in many situations both for backup, supplementary and primary power. First of all, the fuel cell system is a technology that offers up to 70 % reduction of CO2-emissions. Besides that, the fuel cell technology offers several clear advantages compared to diesel generators. Especially in densely populated areas where the surroundings are quite sensitive to noise, vibrations and harmful emissions. Diesel generators will give you all three at the same time, while the fuel cell system can offer you low noise, no vibrations and no harmful emissions due to the nature of the technology. This allow customers to setup the base-stations where the coverage is best, and it also makes it easier to get the required approvals from the owner of the property as well as the authorities.

Fuel cell solutions offers a very compact design per kW. It can be installed in either an outdoor cabinet next to the actual telecom equipment or it can be integrated into an existing indoor solution. In an outdoor solution, the footprint for up to 15 kW is typically not bigger than 1×1 metre including cabinet, modules and tank while in an indoor installation offers an even smaller footprint integrated into e.g. a 19’’ rack system. Not only is it convenient on existing sites but it also saves money on rental cost and installation.

Our fuel cell system is fully monitorable, not only when it comes to power output but you are also able to monitor the state of the inside of the system e.g. fuel cell stack, reformer etc. At the same time the system is running fully automatically and will be self-maintaining and conditioning. The monitoring system also allows you to monitor fuel levels, state of the grid and alarms making it possible for the customers to respond faster to alarms, service requests etc.

The efficiency of the fuel cell system is another area where it outperforms existing technologies. The fuel cell system is dimensioned according to the exact needs of the customers and it runs at a very high efficiency no matter if it is delivering 30 % of its capacity or 100 %. The electrical efficiency rate is typically between 40-50 %.

Methanol fuel cell offers a cheap fuel source. Methanol fuel cells runs on a blend of water and methanol which is easily accessible in most parts of the world and at low rates. At the same time the use of methanol offers a CO2-neutral alternative to traditional fuels, depending on the source of the methanol.

TowerXchange: How robust is the system and how simple is it to install and maintain?

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: Fuel cells offers a robust design, meaning that the technology is equipped for the most extreme conditions. The installation of the fuel cell system is quite easy and in most cases, offers more flexible and faster installation options than traditional power sources – like the options for integration into existing enclosure solutions. The fuel cell system is a compact and lightweight design which is a big advantage for base stations with limited space and for installations in city areas on rooftop sites, in buildings et cetera.

TowerXchange: What kind of opex reductions can fuel cells provide and how does TCO compare to other sources

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: Our methanol fuel cell systems offer low maintenance because they are self-conditioning and maintaining and the systems can be monitored remotely resulting in large savings in terms of service cost, unplanned site visits et cetera.  As mentioned previously methanol is a cheap fuel source and, in most cases, and in most parts of the world methanol is cheaper compared to traditional fuel sources.

TowerXchange: How do SerEnergy differentiate themselves from other fuel cell providers in the market?

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: SerEnergy was established back in 2006 and has since then worked intensively with the implementation of the technology into stationary applications like telecommunication. That also means that the SerEnergy fuel cell systems have been tested and deployed in many markets and with many customers giving a proof of concept which not many competing companies can match. SerEnergy is committed to serving our customers commercially and technically meaning that we support our customers remotely and locally in a way that not many of our competitors are able to offer.

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