Nancy Sutley, the President’s principal environmental policy advisor, visited UTC Power in South Windsor on Thursday to get a closer look at fuel cell technology, something she says is an important part of making the United States more energy independent.
“We know clean energy is creating jobs — good jobs — in Connecticut,” Sutley said. “The future of the world lies in these technologies.”
UTC Power’s fuel cells run on hydrogen extracted from natural gas, available in abundance domestically. The technology is now in use at hundreds of commercial sites throughout the world. Aside from buildings, fuel cells power buses in Connecticut and other companies are experimenting with consumer vehicle designs powered by UTC’s products.
But the cost of producing the pure hydrogen is still prohibitive, and fuel cells need it to operate. Fuel cells become cost effective when both their generated electricity as well as outputted heat are used in an application. The company says their products can be up to 90 percent efficient, and they further produce pure water as a byproduct.
However, you may not have guessed that the industry still faces a hydrogen production hurdle if you toured UTC Power’s campus Thursday with Sutley, who chairs of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and state Sen. Gary LeBeau, co-chair of the legislature’s Commerce Committee.
Aside from Sutley’s optimistic comments, LeBeau emphasized fuel cells as a potential source of job growth.
“That’s what it’s all about,” LeBeau said. “It’s always about jobs. It’s always about the economy. You can’t do the things you want to do to help the people — you have to have the economic base to build off of. Connecticut is leading the way — leader in fuel cells. This is going to be a multi-billion dollar industry. If we maintain our percentage of work in fuel cells, over the next 10 years we will add 20,000 jobs.”
Sutley and LeBeau were joined on the tour by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty. Aside from the tour, the group was provided with a presentation on fuel cell innovation. UTC employs about 450 people at a campus that includes research, development, manufacturing, aftermarket service, and administrative offices.
The event began with a brief presentation by UTC Vice President and General Manager Joe Triopmo, who explained the use of the various types of fuel cell technology being used by companies in buildings and transportation in Connecticut and around the world.
One of those companies, Coca-Cola, recently installed a fuel cell at their East Hartford plant in the hope of reducing heating and cooling costs by 50 percent. They projected that 100 percent of their distribution energy needs will be supplied by the clean energy.
Triompo also noted that Connecticut now utilizes a small fleet of fuel cell-powered public transit buses that made their debut in 2007 as zero-emission vehicles, a project for which UTC remains very proud. The buses refuel at UTC’s South Windsor campus, the only hydrogen filling station in New England.
“This is big — the recognition to have the chairperson here,” Triompo said. “We’re so proud to be able to show our products and our capabilities.”
As part of the visit, Sutley and others had the opportunity to take a ride on one of the buses across the campus to the manufacturing facility. Once inside, Mike Brown, UTC Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel, led the chairwoman around the facility explaining the process of developing and building a fuel cell.
Sutley praised UTC’s capacity to innovate.
“We wanted to come to see what was going on here at UTC Power,” Sutley said. “We know that this group of people I see in front of me and all the folks working here are creating the jobs of the future. The president has talked about this — the best asset we have as a country is our ability to innovate, harness creativity and ingenuity and to develop new and interesting solutions to problems that we have and things that will grow our economy, and it’s great to see that all of you are doing this right here in Connecticut.”