Alternative Energy is a booming area right now, there is a great deal of interest in new and different ways to provide energy. Really, there should be. It’s nothing less than a national security issue when we have so much of our energy needs imported from overseas. Imported from places that don’t have our best interests at heart. That’s why a new launch of something like Bloom Energy’s new fuel cell approach get’s so much buzz. This week they introduced us to the concept of the energy server. Which is, I think a clever way to market their new offering.
Bloom Energy had been teasing the world with a countdown to the launch of their new product. The bloom box, or bloom energy server takes up about the size of a parking space and can generate 100kW of power. Day and night. It’s a fuel cell and if you need more capacity you simply add another unit, or another or another. 100kW they describe as enough power to supply about 100 houses or a small office building. Of course, your coverage will vary depending on actual consumption.
It’s not a cheap box mind you, but the companies that have tried out the units they claim to be saving on their power costs. Companies like Ebay, Google, Coca-Cola, Fedex are among those that have been trying out the device. Google I would imagine (along with any other companies needing data center space) has more of a reason to look for cheap electricity. Power costs are high when you run a datacenter of hundreds of computers. Finding a cheaper way to power them will translate into more money for companies like Google.
What’s further exciting is the promise that within a few years, they will have a device about the size of a brick that you could purchase for what they estimate will be around $3000 that would be enough to power the average house. Again, your mileage will vary. Some houses consume more electricity, some less. Still, the promising of combining multiple units means that you have flexibility to scale up your “energy servers”.
In some ways this could make it more possible to truly be off grid, although I think the availability of the grid is probably an important thing. This winter we lost power to a large snowstorm and were without power about 3-4 days. Heat is our main problem with winter power outages because we need electricity for most of our heating options. A generator is relatively cheap, but impractical to keep running for the amount of time that we need heat. Devices like this could mean that we would never notice an outage from a major storm.
There are lots of other reasons to envision keeping the grid even if more and more houses are their own energy production plants. There will always be times that you will use a bit more power than you expect and for those times you can draw power back from the grid. For that matter, there are also times that you use less power and THAT can be SOLD back to the power company. For our national security I see many advantages to a more diversified power generation structure like these devices could produce.
You should realize though that these energy servers do consume something to create energy. Biofuel is possible, but the more likely fuel at the present is Natural Gas. These fuels will combine with oxygen within the fuel cell to generate electricity. The fuel cell itself is made from one of the more abundant substances you could think of…. sand.