With all the hype surrounding Bloom Energy's recent announcement, I dug through the hype to see just how much of a game changer this could be.
For those of you who don't know, Bloom Energy is a company that's been developing localized static fuel cell technology. In other words, micro-generators for your home or business. No, it's not a Mr. Fusion Home Fusion Kit, but it's a step in that direction.
More over the fold.
In a recent announcement, Bloom Energy's CEO K.R. Sridhar, a former NASA fuel cell PhD, announced that not only have they created a fuel cell that runs on natural gas or biogas, but companies such as google have been using them for over a year. Using natural gas, they generate electricity at $0.08 to $0.10 per kwh, or roughly half the cost of getting it from a power company in the more expensive areas of the us (mainly the NE corridor).
The good part is they generate electricity without noise, at least as efficiently as generating station-size NG generators, and with half the emissions. In addition, since the gas continues to flow when the power is out, it effectively functions as a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Source).
The bad part is the only units available are 100kw units the size of a mid sized car, and cost $700,000 to $800,000 each. How much is 100kw? To put it in perspective, you could run roughly 20 houses off of a single 100kw unit.
The goal is to have a brick sized unit that costs $3000 and generates 5kw. Assuming $0.15 per kwh electric rate and a $1.18/therm natural gas cost (both the current rates where I live), you would save $0.077 per kwh using the bloom box, for a rough payback time of 4 years. This assumes you'll be using only natural gas as a fuel source. If you can generate your own biofuel, such as ethanol or hydrogen, your electricity would be free. There's been much speculation that a bloom box supplementing a solar/wind setup would make off grid living much easier and cheaper.
Another long term goal for the Bloom Box is to bring cheap, affordable power to places that don't have easy access to electricity. The developing world has been in the sights of Bloom Energy since day one.
I think this is a great advance in technology, but not quite a revolutionary one, at least, not yet. Though I can safely say that as soon as a $3000 brick can be tied into my house grid, you can bet I'll be the first on my block to have one.