Another green technology scam with no increased benefits.
The Institute for Energy Research writes:
In 2010, fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy unveiled its “Bloom Energy Server.” The unveiling and subsequent press attention claimed that these “Bloom Boxes” were green, efficient and represented the future of energy production. But three years later it appears that Bloom Energy’s success can be attributed to savvy PR and government subsidies—not a superior product. After reviewing Bloom’s products in the real world, it appears that not only are Bloom Boxes functionally the same as natural gas power plants, but they are less efficient.
It Started with a Fawning Media
Bloom Energy generated buzz in 2010 after 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl became the first journalist to tour the Sunnyvale, California headquarters and look inside the top-secret “Bloom Box”. Stahl’s piece, however, was much closer to advertising than journalism. For example, Stahl starts, “In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention.”
Bloom’s good PR extends beyond Apple. A number of well-known companies have purchased Bloom Boxes, including Adobe, FedEx, Staples, Google, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart. One reason these companies signed up is because of government subsidies. As 60 Minutes explains, “In California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there’s a 30 percent federal tax break because it’s a ‘green’ technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.” Getting the price cut in half definitely makes expensive energy technology look appealing, especially if it has the veneer of being “green.”
While Bloom Boxes aren’t green (unless you consider natural power plants green), the most important question is whether Bloom Boxes are efficient. According to 60 Minutes, Google has some Bloom Boxes that “use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant.” The claim that Bloom Boxes are efficient does not stand up to scrutiny.
Is Bloom Green: Unboxing Bloom Energy’s Costs
A couple of engineers in California decided to compare Bloom’s energy efficiency with a cogeneration facility running on natural gas. These two engineers, Bob Spitzka and James Hall, have worked on the feasibility and design of nearly 100 cogeneration facilities and wanted to see how Bloom compared in terms of efficiency. After all, as 60 Minutes noted above, Bloom Boxes received subsidies because they are perceived as “green.”
Spitzka and Hall find that conventional cogeneration, which also produces usable heat, can achieve better CO2 reductions than Bloom Energy fuel cells when operating on the same fuel. The following chart compares a cogeneration unit to a Bloom Energy unit, each rated at 100 kw and operating 90 percent of the year:
As the chart shows, a conventional cogeneration unit would cost $500,000 less annually than a Bloom Energy unit. Moreover, the Bloom unit actually increases CO2 emissions by 98.2 tons per year, despite Bloom Energy’s claims that Bloom Boxes are better for the environment. Moreover, cogeneration is nothing new; the technology has existed for more than a century, yet these old units cost less and are more efficient than Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box.