How to Scale Up Bloom Energy? Bring In Commercialization Expert


How can buzzy fuel cell startup Bloom Energy move from its current early stage — a handful of customers and still high costs — to lower-cost mass market manufacturing? If you’re Bloom Energy backer Kleiner Perkins, you look to hire a commercialization expert with a long history in the fuel cell biz. Kleiner Perkins has hired Operating Partner Jan van Dokkum who will be tasked specifically with assisting greentech ventures toward commercialization (hat tip VentureWire and more in The Daily Startup).

Kleiner describes van Dokkum on its web site as having “many years of experience in building organizations to achieve rapid growth in the areas of sales, marketing, manufacturing, quality and supply chain development.” Specifically for Bloom’s sake, van Dokkum was president of fuel cell maker UTC Power (s UTX) for seven years and worked at Siemens (s SI) for 17 years. He served as president and CEO of Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution for the last six years. Van Dokkum is also a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee and was chairman of the California Fuel Cell Partnership for 2 years.

Bloom must have had quite a few bright minds working on getting California’s utilities to spend over a year petitioning regulators for approval to implement its technology. Earlier this month the California Public Utilities Commission approved a request from PG&E (s PCG) and Southern California Edison to install fuel cells from Bloom Energy and FuelCell Energy on campuses in California. The total PG&E project will cost $20.3 million, plus operational costs of $9 million, while the SCE project will cost $19.1 million to install and $9 million in operation and maintenance costs. While those costs are slightly lower than a previous proposal, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Dorothy Duda wrote when she originally recommended to reject the project: “It is unreasonable to spend three times the price paid to renewable generation for the proposed Fuel Cell Projects, which are nonrenewable and fueled by natural gas.”

But Bloom needs more than utility partners to bring down costs and scale up production of its fuel cells. NEA partner and Bloom backer Scott Sandell said at Bloom’s launch that the company could drop the cost of the Bloom Box by 60-70 percent over the coming years (here’s a little video clip on how Sandell thinks Bloom can get there).

Kleiner also needs a commercialization expert to help another portfolio company scale up: Amyris Biotechnologies. The synthetic biology biofuel maker plans to IPO this year in order to raise funds to help reach commercialization and needs to hit specific manufacturing milestones to keep its business running.

More research on Bloom Energy on GigaOM Pro: Bloom Energy and Data Centers – Perfect Together? (subscription required).

Image courtesy of Bloom Energy



Duda rejects the petition from utilities to give rate-payer’s $60 million for 4MW of fuel cell install capacity. Peevey over-rules Duda’s decision because he gets a call from Arnold. Arnold is in the pocket of Kleiner and NEA. All of this is happening while California is bankrupt and we are laying-off the teachers in our school system.

Hell of a play….


Gee, maybe they should have thought of this before they got started? They can’t compete on cost compared with established technologies like combined-cycle turbine plants, so their only possible niche are smaller remote power sites. (Bloom has convinced themselves of savings due to the lack of powerlines needed. But note that many powerlines are already in place, and in any case, a gas line is still needed.)

It’s not a good sign that they got a guy (van Dokkum) that has vested so much of his career professional in hydrogen fuel cells (another technology that makes little market sense). Perhaps he’s looking for one more signing bonus from Bloom.

Since larger units (10 MW+) make little sense, they probably should concentrate on a end-use product in the 1-10KW range. The fact that they are quieter and more efficient than smaller turbines might help. Integrate some U-Caps so they unit can output 10X nominal power to electric motors starts from appliances such as refrigerators or washing machines.

And then pray a lot…..

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