The Bloom Box: Worth all the Hype?

The Bloom Box: Worth all the Hype?

The official launch of Bloom Energy’s potentially revolutionary new fuel cell technology, the Bloom Box, has tongues everywhere wagging, and there seem to be more questions than answers at this point.

Here’s what we do know:

  • The technology was originally developed for use by NASA – which implies it’s pretty smart stuff.
  • The company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to refine the technology for commercial and residential use.
  • 20 major companies, including Google, eBay, FedEx, and Wal-Mart are testing the Bloom Boxes, providing feedback and showing remarkable results.
  • The company’s optimistic CEO wants to have a Bloom Box affordable enough for average homeowners to buy within the next 5-10 years. He’s pegging the price around $3,000.
  • It has zero emissions and it’s wireless – doesn’t require grid connections at all.

There are reasons to be skeptical. This isn’t the first foray into fuel cell technology, after all – there are several other pioneering companies like Fuel Cell Energy that have been installing units since the 1990s. But no one has made a financial go of it yet. Fuel Cell Energy lost $71 million last year.

Historically, the biggest hurdle has been price – but Bloom Energy says it’s using cheaper materials to replace platinum and it doesn’t rely on expensive, pure hydrogen gas. The large boxes being tested today run around $800,000 and are producing five times more energy than the 3,000 solar panels on eBay’s campus.

Here are my questions (on behalf of curious citizens everywhere):

  • When will these potentially game-changing devices be available to average Americans really?
  • Will utility companies embrace the new technology and start installing Bloom Boxes at sub-stations instead of building new power plants? How will they work with their customers to deploy them — or will they fight the deployment as a threat to their current business model?
  • What fuel source would a homeowner need to provide to make the Box work? Right now, it requires natural gas, biomass-produced gas or solar energy. How much savings are produced?
  • How will the price per kilowatt compare to coal? Natural gas? Renewables? What’s the ROI for the average homeowner?

And here are my hopes:

  • That it works.
  • That it works affordably.
  • That it works affordably and reliably.
  • That it works affordably, reliably and cleanly.

Based on what we hear in our research, we know a small percentage of Americans are moving toward energy independence – and not just from foreign countries – but from utility companies. Whether it’s distributed generation from solar, wind or now fuel cell technology, Americans are reporting pent up demand for energy sources that they can own and control. In Energy Pulse 2009, 28% of Americans said they want to install solar on their homes – and solar’s more than 10 times more expensive than the projected cost of a Bloom Box.

We’ll keep our eyes and ears open as more Americans start hearing about fuel cell technology for their homes and let you know how they react.

See the 60 Minutes report on Bloom Energy here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6228923n&tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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