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Bloom Energy's Magic Power Box Unveiled

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It’s only taken the ultra-secretive fuel cell maker Bloom Energy 8 years and close to $400 million to get it to where it is tonight: finally unveiling its refrigerator-sized fuel cell called the Bloom Box to the public in an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Bloom Energy founder K.R. Sridhar shows 60 Minute’s Lesley Stahl the innards of the Bloom Box, which takes in oxygen and fuel (natural gas, biomass, etc.) to create electricity and costs between $700,000 to $800,000. Google, Bloom Energy’s first customer, has already been using 4 Bloom boxes to power a datacenter. The company, which is backed by Kleiner Perkins and others Valley VCs, will be unveiling its Bloom Box to the media more widely on Wednesday and Earth2Tech will be there.

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26 Responses to “Bloom Energy's Magic Power Box Unveiled”

  1. Randy Hensley

    I’m not powering a camupus or datacenter, just a diverse American neighborhood. I would just like to know what a system that would take care of several homes none of which is over 3200 SqFt. Anythin will help with this (hot, hot, hot) Texas weather. I would even volunteer to be a beta tester and administer the account for our neighborhood.
    I figured the hype should have cooled down a bit by now and we could do some real world testing.

  2. @Om and @les madras, Also, in California (where all of the first 20 customers are) the Bloom Boxes don’t necessary cost $700K to $800K. 20 percent of the cost of a Bloom Box is subsidized by the state and add that to a 30 percent federal tax break. But still a longer ROI than eBay indicated in the 60 Minutes piece.

    • One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is how these units are being used. Did you miss the part about the data center. You need to realize that companies like eBay loose more in a couple of hours being down than these units cost all together. They are basically buying uptime by having their own power plant. Getting off the grid isn’t the only objective here.

  3. nothing adds up about this, at least not what has been released. worse yet, the part about “running on solar energy” smells like perpetuum mobile! $750,000 to be able to light my house with natural gas (which ain’t free or greenhouse-gas-neutral) sounds like a venture capital boondoggle to me. and the proposed price point of $3k (from $750k!) sounds like a marketing manager’s fantasy, rather than a production manager’s target. (imagine recovering $400 million in r&d off the first 500 customers in line! no wonder they’re playing up the hype for all they’re worth. literally.)

    I’d be happy to buy (the 501st) one for my house…

  4. chico sajovic

    This is a pure PR stunt to designed to tap into mass hysteria of ‘green’ energy even though there is no way they can produce a watt of electricity from natural gas for anywhere as cheaply a modern coal fired plant 100 miles away can deliver it. Fuel cell technology only holds promise if the US continues to stifle the construction of coal fired power plants. Natural gas is around 50% more expensive per BTU than coal. Now if it could co-generate hot water for heat and domestic use there might be some savings to be had for consumers because a lot of us use natural gas for hot water anyways, electricity would just be a ‘free’ byproduct. Of course these systems already exist using traditional electric generators, no expensive fuel cell needed.

    • “Fuel cell technology only holds promise if the US continues to stifle the construction of coal fired power plants.”

      Wow, coal industry lobby much? In case you haven’t been paying attention to current events, there’s a lot more to consider than the absolute cheapest price per watt.

      Stifle away!

      • chico sajovic

        Actually I need to update my views after a little more thought. Electricity at the home is about twice as expensive per BTU as natural gas, thats why heating your home with electricity is so expensive. If the bloombox has high efficiencies it may be less expensive to operate. But a lot of questions remain; how efficient is it? whats its reliability? what kind of maintenance does it require? How quickly can it adjust to changes in demand? How long does it take to start up? Can it be modified for cogeneration?

  5. @OM: Not able to reply to you in the original thread (no reply link). I had hoped you would be able to do something. Can suffer these once in a while. Please don’t do it frequently :).

    btw are only some of us seeing the autoplay in reader or you were able to replicate the issue ?

  6. Don’t forget that for some companies (California) there are tax breaks and subsidies that together slash the cost in half.
    But it’s longevity and durability have yet to be proven.
    Wish the Bloom energy website wasn’t so cryptic, just a countdown…

  7. Jacob Varghese

    I’m hopeful, but there is not enough information at this point for us to make a judgement. I’m excited to see what they reveal later this week.

    I don’t see how this would be marketed to home-owners.
    IMO, municipalities and businesses would be more suited to maintaining these.

    Natural Gas comes in through a large pipe to the city. They convert it to electricity and distribute it.

    Maybe this will spur further development in the smart grid?

    Does this have something to do with Google’s new interest in energy markets?

          • chico sajovic

            5M investment, 125K annual savings = 2.5% ROI = bad investment.

            And I’d wager a nickle that this figure doesn’t include maintenance and repairs. Plus the usable lifespan of the device is likely shorter than the time it takes to pay off your initial investment. Using fuel cells as a backup power source is most unlikely because they operate at such high temperatures they take a long time to start working.

      • les madras

        John Donahue of eBay indicated in the 60min segment that he saved 100K in power costs over 9 months using 5 Bloom bozes to run flat out providing 15% of his campus power. The 100Kw boxes are priced at 800K for a total of 4M. This would indicate a payback period of 360 months. Or 180 months with a 50% tax break.

        • Les Madras,

          Your math makes a lot of sense. Instead of giving you the wrong answer, we are going to ask the folks from Bloom Energy when we/Earth2tech team meets with them. I am going to follow up with folks from eBay and report to you with an update.