The Future Of Clean Energy – Bloom Box

What ever happened to renewable energy? It seems like interest in renewable energy peaked during the spike in gas prices during the summer of 2008. But, after the economic crisis that followed in the fall, interest in renewable energy seemed to have waned as Americans became more interested in where they were going to get their next paychecks. What was seen as a huge opportunity for renewable and “clean” energy, the multi hundred billion dollar rescue and stimulus packages, have seemed to do little to really push the technologies forward. It seems that, for now, Americans are too accustomed to using petroleum based products such as gasoline and diesel fuels.

Bloom Box Came Onto The Scene

But, this does not mean that there haven’t been serious attempts changing American’s energy use habits. One of the most anticipated products to hit the market in years was the Bloom Box, which launched in 2010. The Bloom Box promised to revolutionize the way that energy was produced and consumed, not just in the United States, but around the world. What has followed in the years since its unveiling has been anything but a mass conversion by consumers to Bloom Box technology. But, though the Bloom Box has not yet changed the world, the company is still going strong.

Bloom Energy was unveiled to the world in February 2010, following a tantalizing profile by the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.” The unveiling, spearheaded by Bloom Energy Founder and CEO K.R. Sridhar, along with the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was held at the headquarters of internet giant ebay, in San Jose, California. Bloom Energy was reported to have received over $400 million dollars in venture capital to develop the Bloom Box, which was originally conceived as a way to provide power for humans who would eventually travel to the planet Mars. With former Secretary of State Colin Powell among its board of directors, Bloom Energy seems poised to take the world by storm.

 

What Is The Bloom Box?

The primary product of Bloom Energy is called the Bloom Box. At the time of its unveiling, it was about the size of a parking space, and able to deliver 100Kw of power. The technology behind the Bloom Box is based on solid oxide fuel cells, which have a consistent source of fuel, such as natural gas, to keep the power flowing. At the time of the press announcement, it was also announced that the Bloom Box technology had been installed at the headquarters of ebay about 9 months earlier. The CEO of ebay stated that the boxes had saved the company about $100,000 in electricity costs. With each Bloom Box costing between $700,000 to $800,000 – it was unclear if this cost had been factored into the savings.

The Bloom Box generated such headlines in 2010, that many alternative energy proponents were singing its praises as the next biggest thing. It had the backing of some of the country’s largest technology companies in ebay and Google. It had the x-factor – the mysterious technology with a mysterious beginning. Everyone wanted to know just what was a Bloom Box. How did it work? Why were such heavyweights as government officials, venture capital firms, and technology giants touting its praises. Even the Terminator was hyping the Bloom Box. But, as with so many things that start off with a bang, the technology from Bloom Energy has seen its hype come back down to earth. In the 2 ½ years since the public launching of the Bloom Box, not much has been heard about the device.

Where Is The Bloom Box Today?

So, what has been happening in the years since the Bloom Box was first introduced to the world? According to Bill Kurtz, former AT&T VP and current CFO of Bloom Energy, the company is “halfway there” to profitability. This is not a bad accomplishment after just 2 years of public business. Kurtz says that Bloom Energy is doubling its rate of revenue and installations every 6 months. For a technology company, with a supposedly novel technology, this is by no means an exponential rate of growth. This is especially true when one considers Bloom Energy has been operating for over a decade, though it was only publicly launched a couple of years ago. However, things seem to be looking up for Bloom Energy. But, what is taking them so long?

Challenges Facing The Technology

One of the major challenges for Bloom Energy is to make a smaller, home sized version of the Bloom Box. The goal is to get the box produced such that it can be profitably sold for $3000 or less, producing about 1Kw of electricity. This does not seem to be enough to power the average American house – which really goes to the core challenge for Bloom – to make afforbale clean energy.

Is It A New Technology Afterall?

Many experts have bashed Bloom Energy, and the Bloom Box, as a repackaging of existing technology which has already been shown to be too expensive. An example is a recent announcement that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority was awarded a $750,000 federal grant toward a $4 million purchase of Bloom Box technology. The combined boxes are expected to generate about 400Kw of electricity – coming out to about $10,000 per kilowatt. By all measures this is expensive electricity, at least initially. And this leads us to another Bloom Box concern, how long do they last?

Reliability Is The Biggest Hurdle

According to Bloom Energy the Bloom Box will last the purchaser about 10 years of service time. The only problem is that Bloom Energy itself has only been around for about that time, and consumers are difficult to convince regarding the reliability of a new technology. This will ultimately prove to be the ultimate hurdle for Bloom Energy – proving that the Bloom Box will last. There are plenty of people, probably enough to make a decent customer base, who are willing to pay a little more for energy that is clean. But, not many people are willing to sink a few thousand dollars into a new, unproven technology, which may not even work a few years after purchase.

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