Bloom Energy, the much hyped Silicon Valley maker of the Bloom Box, has come up with a plan to offer businesses a more economical way to power buildings with its fuel cells. The price tag for Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box energy servers can be more than US $700,000, which is way too much for many companies.
Bloom Energy has announced a new electricity service in which clients will be able to just buy the power instead of the energy servers themselves, under a decade long contract with Bloom. Bloom will keep ownership of the fuel cells and take care of maintenance.
Some of Bloom Energy’s existing clients include Coca-Cola, Wal Mart, and Staples. These companies said they will sign up to use the new leasing plan for additional power. Caltech and Kaiser Permanente have also signed up. Other existing Bloom Box customers include high profile companies such as Google, eBay, Adobe, FedEx, and Bank of America.
To make power, the Bloom Box sucks oxygen from the air and combines it with fuel such as natural gas or biogas. A continual electrochemical reaction creates energy without the need for combustion. The core of the process is a modular fuel cell that is not much bigger than a playing card, which generates enough electricity to run a light bulb. These are stacked and arranged in large numbers to create the Bloom Box.
By lowering the upfront costs, it is hoped that the use of fuel cells could become more widespread, in a similar way to in the solar power industry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that Bloom Energy can produce power at 14c per kilowatt hour over 10 years. The average U.S. commercial rate is around 10c per kilowatt hour. When long term gas contracts and state and federal incentives are taken into account, the price could be below 7c, apparently.
Bloom hopes to expand its products to residential customers over the next 10 years. Bloom CEO KR Sridhar has said “in 3 to 5 years we will have a product that requires no subsidy”.
Can you see yourself having one of these at your home in coming years, if the price is right? No doubt a home version would be a lot smaller than the close to shipping container-sized boxes being produced now.