An Affordable Way to Buy Fuel-Cell Power

 

Taking a page from the solar industry, Bloom Energy on Thursday unveiled a service to allow customers to buy the electricity generated by its fuel cells without incurring the capital costs of purchasing the six-figure devices.

The company is introducing its Bloom Electrons service nearly a year after the once-secretive Silicon Valley start-up unveiled its Bloom Energy Server, a 100-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell at a news conference in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, then the California governor; Colin Powell, the former secretary of state; and top executives from Google, Wal-Mart and eBay offered testimonials.

Fuel cells, which convert hydrogen, natural gas or another fuel into electricity through an electrochemical process, have long held out the promise of cheap and plentiful energy while emitting fewer pollutants than conventional power plants.

But the $700,000 to $800,000 cost of the Boom Box has proven steep for potential customers other than the Fortune 500 companies that have bought the sleek metallic cubes.

“Certain companies want complete control of their energy and want to own the box,” K.R. Sridhar, Bloom Energy’s co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview on Thursday. “Others want to scale deployment without deploying their capital. Bloom Electrons is an additional way to do that and reach educational institutions, health care organizations and non-profits.”

Under the Bloom Electrons service, customers sign 10-year contracts to purchase the electricity generated by Bloom Energy Servers while the company retains ownership of the fuel cells and responsibility for their maintenance.

Mr. Sridhar said Bloom Electrons has so far signed up customers for 200 Bloom Energy Servers to be installed at organizations like the California Institute of Technology, Kaiser Permanente, the giant health maintenance organization, as well as at existing customers like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

“We’re able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to put any money up front, you pay only for the electrons you use and it’s good for your pocketbook and good for planet,’ ” he said.

Bloom has formed a subsidiary in partnership with Credit Suisse and Silicon Valley Bank to operate Bloom Electrons. The main market for the service is likely to be in California, given the state’s generous subsidies that can halve the cost of fuel cells and the electricity they produce.

When solar panel installers began offering lease options to residential customers who wanted to avoid the expense of owning photovoltaic arrays, business exploded. One company, Sungevity, has said that 95 percent of its customers now opt to lease rather than own.

Whether Bloom Energy’s business will follow a similar trajectory remains to be seen. But Mr. Sridhar said he expected the Electrons service to eventually account for half the company’s installations.

He said he saw California as a test market to bring the Electrons service to the developing world.

“Why did the mobile phone spread around the world? It was a pay-by-the-minute model,” said Mr. Sridhar, a former NASA scientist. “It’s my firm belief that when we go to the developing world, it’s a pay-for-the-electrons model that will work.”

ES-5000 Energy Server

ES-5000 Energy Server Data Sheet

Technical Highlights
Inputs
Fuels Natural Gas, Directed Biogas
Input fuel pressure 15 psig
Fuel required @ rated power 0.661 MMBtu/hr of natural gas
Water required (for startup only) 120 gallons municipal water
Outputs
Rated power output (AC) 100 kW
Electrical efficiency (LHV net AC) > 50%
Electrical connection 480V @ 60 Hz, 4-wire 3 phase
Physical
Weight 10 tons
Size 224″ x 84″ x 81″
Emissions
NOx < 0.07 lbs/MW-hr
SOx negligible
CO < 0.10 lbs/MW-hr
VOCs < 0.02 lbs/MW-hr
CO2 @ specified efficiency 773 lbs/MW-hr on natural gas,
carbon neutral on Directed Biogas
Environment
Standard temperature range 0° to 40° C (extreme weather kit available)
Max altitude at rated power 6,000 ft. MSL
Humidity 20% – 95%
Seismic Vibration IBC site class D
Location Outdoor
Noise @ rated power < 70 DB @ 6 feet
Codes and Standards
Complies with Rule 21 interconnection standards
Exempt from CA Air District permitting; meets stringent CARB 2007 emissions standards
Product Listed by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) to ANSI/CSA America FC 1
Additional Notes
Operates in a grid parallel configuration
Includes a secure website for you to showcase performance & environmental benefits
Remotely managed and monitored by Bloom Energy
Capable of emergency stop based on input from your facility

 

By TODD WOODY
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