A green technology project soon to be online at Cal State East Bay will not just be a learning and research tool for students -- it also will supply power to the state's electric grid.
The university will become one of the first colleges in Northern California to host a fuel cell -- a clean, low emission, mini-power plant that uses natural gas and water to generate electricity.
School officials, as well as representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., broke ground on the project this week. PG&E is footing the bill for the $7 million project, which is expected to be online in April.
The fuel cell project is a win-win situation for the school, said Jim Zavagno, the university's director of planning, design and construction.
Not only will the fuel cell lend itself as a teaching tool in science, engineering and math education, but the university also will receive the cell's "waste product" -- hot water -- for free, he said.
"A lot of times, the hot water from this process is just dumped down the lines," Zavagno said. "But we'll use it to heat some of our buildings and our pool."
Zavagno said the hot water will save the school about $155,000 annually -- although the school is on the hook for the infrastructure necessary to distribute the water, which will cost about $600,000.
The fuel cell -- at the northern tip of the school's campus -- will be capable of generating up to 1.4 megawatts of electricity. Zavagno said that is approximately enough to power 1,200 standard size homes at any given time.
However, unlike the solar panels on top of some campus buildings that generate electricity for the school, the electricity generated by the fuel cell will be added to the state's electric grid and used to power businesses and homes.