Bloom Energy moves beyond California by Doug Mohney
Once upon a time not so long ago, the only place where you could find operational Bloom Energy Servers (fuel cells) was in California. That time has now passed, with publicly disclosed installations in Delaware, North Carolina and Utah. Now if the company can get the fuel cell price down like it promised, we could all be powering up with natural gas as a greener alternative to a variety of fuels.
EBay is getting a lot of ink for its data center expansion in Utah. The company is installing 6 megawatts (MW) of Bloom Energy servers -- 30 servers in all -- into its new facility. Bloom's fuel cells will provide primary power for the facility on a 24x7x356 basis, with "the grid" used only as a backup. Each Bloom server will generate 1.75 million kilowatt hours (kWh) and be fed with biogas derived from "renewable organic waste," said the June 21, 2012 press release.
This isn't the first Bloom Energy server eBay has purchased. The company has had a 500 kW Bloom fuel cell at its San Jose headquarters since at least 2009, when Bloom was in "stealth mode." Bloom announced eBay among its first Fortune 500 customers back in February 2010 -- more than two years ago. Certainly Bloom has passed real-world reliability testing with eBay at the company HQ.
Apple's shiny new data center in Maiden, North Carolina will use Bloom Energy servers. The 4.8 megawatt project of 24 Bloom Energy servers will complement Apple's 20 MW solar farm and is expected to go into operation at the end of 2012. Apple will use natural gas as the fuel stock and buy methane offset to make everything green.
The new servers for Apple's data center won't come from Bloom's new manufacturing center in Newark Delaware. Bloom announced its second manufacturing line at the end of April, along with new customers Owens Corning, Urban Outfitters, Delmarva Power, Washington Gas and AT&T., and expects construction to be completed in mid-2013 with manufacturing to begin shortly thereafter.
It's interesting to note even if Bloom doesn't directly sell its fuel cells to East Coast data centers, utilities like Delmarva Power and Washington Gas will use Bloom products to generate electricity -- which in turn should help to displace existing "dirty" sources such as coal.
Bloom's boom also has to be helped by the huge supplies of natural gas being tapped throughout the northeast through the (non-green) process of fracking. The bitter irony here is that while natural gas production will end up displacing a lot of coal-generated electricity and carbon, fracking operations are coming under tighter scrutiny for polluting ground water and causing stress to small towns in Pennsylvania and New York state not setup for the influx of drilling operations.