On June 22, The Energy Gang (and GTM Editor in Chief Eric Wesoff) had a lively discussion about fuel cells and specifically about Bloom Energy. We have great respect for this group and are long-time followers ourselves. However, this time, they didn’t get it quite right, and we would like to take this opportunity to address some misperceptions and inaccuracies set forth in the discussion.
Let’s start with some basics: There was confusion about whether our stationary fuel cells are used for primary versus backup power applications. In all cases, Bloom Energy Servers provide clean, primary, 24/7 power. In a basic configuration, they must conform to IEEE requirements and stop exporting power in the case of grid outages. However, our Energy Servers can be equipped or upgraded with an Uninterruptible Power Module option at any point to enable continuous operation in the event of grid interruption. This means Bloom Energy Servers not only replace dirtier grid emissions, but they can also obviate the need for diesel generators and other backup equipment. Today, we power facilities for over 20 Fortune 100 customers and, of those customers, close to half have sites with Bloom uninterruptible power.
There was also a focus on comparing Bloom Energy Servers to combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants in the Energy Gang discussion, yet the context was a discussion about the role of the fuel cells in the distributed energy future. At a minimum size of about 600 megawatts, CCGTs are clearly not distributed resources, making comparisons largely meaningless unless one takes into account differences in performance, location and operation. The EIA has provided data that takes these differences into account and paints a clear picture of Bloom’s more favorable performance on emissions reductions, shown in the chart below.
The data clearly shows that Bloom Energy Servers operating at even minimum levels of efficiency reduce emissions by more than twice compared to CCGTs. To reinforce this point, the latest 250-kilowatt Bloom Energy Server with a peak efficiency of 65 percent outperforms even the recently announced world-record-holding GE/EDF 605-megawatt CCGT, even before taking line losses or capacity factor into account. Simply put, Bloom Energy provides the most efficient commercially available way to convert gas to delivered electricity.
Beyond the comparison of efficiency and resulting impact on CO2 emissions, here are some additional areas to consider:
- CCGTs combust natural gas and produce significant amounts of criteria air pollutants including nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxides. In contrast, Bloom Energy Servers produce electricity through an electrochemical conversion with no sulfur dioxide emissions and negligible nitrous oxide emissions, thus avoiding unhealthy local air pollution.
- The water consumption of a CCGT is 171 gallons per megawatt-hour, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Bloom Energy Servers use no water during normal operation.
- Bloom Energy Servers offer a flexible and highly modular infrastructure in 250-kilowatt increments that can be deployed in targeted areas of load in a matter of weeks or months. On the other hand, CCGTs are typically built at a monolithic 600-megawatt or 1-gigawatt scale and take up to seven years to plan, permit, construct and interconnect to high-voltage transmission lines.
- Bloom Energy Servers are wired directly into the customer facility where the power is used, and thus the losses and risks associated with miles of exposed transmission and distribution lines, which are frequently a source of grid outages, are avoided.
The Energy Gang also speculated about the efficiency of Bloom Energy Servers when increased ethane content, which sometimes occurs in the natural gas supply, is encountered. We can provide clarity on this point -- with our internal reformation technology, there is no efficiency impact with higher ethane content in the gas supply.
Bloom provides the only distributed generation solution that combines firm, 24/7, highly reliable, resilient power with low to no emissions. In fact, while Bloom running on natural gas reduces CO2 by approximately 50 percent compared to the present U.S. generation portfolio, our customers also have the option to run their Energy Servers on biogas for a carbon-neutral solution, which many choose to do. The modularity and robustness of our Energy Servers enable us to provide mission-critical levels of reliability and adapt our systems for a variety of facilities ranging from retail stores to large data centers. Our customers see real benefits of the technology from cost savings, enhanced resiliency and sustainability. Put it all together, and this is why we are seeing such robust adoption of Bloom Energy Servers by industry-leading companies.
With the greatest respect to our friends at the Energy Gang, no discussion of the role of fuel cells can be complete without understanding the correct facts.
Listen to the Energy Gang's discussion on fuel cells below. The segment starts at 33:15.
Asim Hussain is vice president of marketing and customer experience at Bloom Energy.