ICT Facilities Now Using Bloom Energy Server

The Bloom Energy Server is a "distributed power generator" that uses fuel cells to convert air and natural gas into electricity. We wrote in 2010 that the 'Bloom Boxes' are "already being used by ICT companies, but not for for mission-critical ICT applications." By mid-2012 we could report that they are used for applications ranging from television to telecom. We've updated this post with a video about e-Bay's Utah datacenter.

eBay announced in June 2012 that biogas-fueled Bloom units will be the primary energy source for its Utah data center, making it "...the country's largest non-utility fuel cell installation". "The new six-megawatt (MW) Bloom installation is being designed and engineered into eBay’s expanded data center facility in Utah, and will be fully functional by mid-2013. Each of the 30 Bloom Energy servers will generate 1.75 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually, and will be installed a few hundred feet from the center itself, virtually eliminating traditional utility grid losses." The units are now online:

2012 Updates

The "Bloom Box" providing 69% of the power at KTVU-TV (Oakland)'s main building. I assume that does not include the transmitter power which is consumed at the tower, located across San Francisco Bay at Mount Sutro. Transmitter power is a major part of a TV station's total energy consumption and uninterrupted operation is critical. Studio and master control operations can be considered mission-critical ICT facilities for broadcasters and are housed in KTVU's main building, so this represents the only example we could find of Bloom units contributing significantly to ICT.

DatacenterDynamics writes, "'AT&T will be deploying Bloom Energy fuel cells in California at AT&T administration offices, data centers and facilities that house network equipment,' an AT&T spokesman wrote in an email…The use of natural-gas or hydrogen fuel cells in data centers is uncommon. The few known examples include a Fujitsu data center in Sunnyvale, California, the First National Bank’s data center in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Verizon data center on Long Island in New York State, all three of which use hydrogen fuel cells."

NTT America is deploying Bloom boxes at its Lundy Data Center (San José, CA-USA). "The initial deployment encompasses five energy servers with a total capacity of 500kW, which will enable the company to produce over 4.2GWh annually. In addition, the firm will be able to reduce CO2 emissions by around 730t per year", writes Industrial Fuels and Power.

CNET reports in April 2012 that Bloom boxes will be deployed in Apple's Maiden (NC-USA) data center. "The data center, now under construction, will have 4.8 megawatts worth of fuel cells powered by biogas. It is expected to be the largest corporate fuel cell installation." The report has not been confirmed by either Apple or Bloom.

More: Fuel cells in ICT - Fuel cells for off-grid cell towers

Original 2010 post:

Google and e-Bay are also Bloom customers. Some have jumped to the conclusion that the Bloom units are being used for customer-facing data center operations, but I could find no confirmation of this interpretation. E-Bay is using 100% renewable biogas.

More confirmation is coming in that bloggers and tweeters were premature in declaring that the Bloom Box was being used to power customer-facing data centers at Google, et al. The Washington Post writes, "Google co-founder Larry Page...looks forward to the day that it can expand the number of Bloom boxes Google uses to the point where it can power one of its data centers." This is consistent with Bloom Energy's own write-up about Google, which refers to its "installation on Google’s main campus."

Another ICT company, Adobe, has purchased Bloom boxes, but not for ICT facilities. Adobe states that the installation is "designed to supply approximately one-third of the electricity required by Adobe’s downtown San Jose headquarters" and will use biogas.

Bloom Boxes - Biogas vs. natural Gas

Matt

I believe that this comment is only applicable to California, and is part of the reason why Bloom are almost entirely focused on the California market. The key to the issue of biogas - lies in understanding the SGIP incentive program - see below.

PG&E’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) provides financial incentives for the installation of new, qualifying wind or fuel cell self-generation equipment.

http://www.pge.com/mybusiness/energysavingsrebates/selfgenerationincentive/

The cost of biogas - which in most cases actually means "injected biogas" (you receive natural gas but under contract with a biogas producer who is "injecting" it into the gas system) - is nearly twice the current cost of a 5 year forward contract for natural gas.

Bloom list price is $8100 per kW - CA combined subsidies are $5000.00 per kW ($2500.00 base, NB $2000.00 for use of biogas, and $500.00 for made in CA)

Base unit is 100 kW - and typical configuration is 6 units in series = 600 kW

Capital cost = $4,860,000.00 less subsidy $3,000,000.00 - assuming maximum SGIP is granted.

Operational costs of generating energy are between $0.10 and $0.16 per kWH depending on gas costs - you need to use biogas to get the 100% renewable subsidy - but it costs!

Because the fuel cell resides "inside the meter", both the costs of electricity distribution and energy generation are saved for the "self generator" - open4energy has found that a detailed analysis of the 15 minute interval data is required to make sure that the load displaced by the fuel cell is always there to be displaced.

Data centers are excellent examples of a stable base load that a fuel cell will do well to displace, unlike "people loads" they do not go home each night ......

But, the Bloom box operating costs of "gas" and "scheduled maintenance" is still a way from the lowest off peak winter rates.

Even Bloom, who appears to be the most cost effective and efficient of the local generating technologies, has some way to go without subsidies, and any hard economic cost justifications.

I do applaud Google and eBay who have used their money to pioneer this approach, and I believe that any cost imbalances (their soft economic models) will have been money well invested in their brand as "green innovators".

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