That annoying voice on the automated support line at AT&T will soon be greener.

The telecommunications giant has agreed to install 7.5 megawatts' worth of Bloom Energy Servers at 11 facilities in California. The Energy Servers, which sell for around $700,000 each, produce 100 kilowatts of power, so this amounts to 75 servers. The servers -- solid oxide fuel cells that convert natural gas into electricity at somewhat high (50 percent) levels of efficiency -- will be operational by 2012.

In June, Bloom signed a contract with a Delaware utility for 30 megawatts of servers, so the AT&T deal is likely the second largest deal for the company. Caltech has 2 megawatts' worth of servers.

Right now, Bloom largely sells its fuel cells in California because cumulative federal and state credits can come to a whopping $8.25 a watt. But the geographic footprint will expand. The Delaware deal came at the same time that Bloom announced it would retrofit an old auto plant in the state to make the Energy Servers. Delaware has set a goal of getting 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025. Earlier in the year, Bloom also appointed Girlish Paranjpe to head up international sales. Additionally, Bloom has begun to sell its fuel cells as a service to take some of the sting out of the initial investment.

My personal guess is that we will see a large financial institution on Wall Street announce a Bloom installation soon. Why? Utilities are already imposing power consumption ceilings on large data centers, forcing the banks to either become more efficient or find alternative sources of power. Spending on efficiency is already underway. Bloom servers, however, remain one of the few ways to get off-grid, baseline-quality power into an urban core. Solar panels just won't cut it for running financial simulations.


--Geography is the friend of solar. That's the word from Obadiah Bartholomy (sic) from Sacramento Municipal Utility District at Intersolar. SMUD has installed sensors on a number of solar installations in its service territory to monitor power production. Right now, SMUD has 30 megawatts of solar in the area. In five years, it might have 230 megawatts. Variability in power output, therefore, is a big deal.

The utility, however, is finding that geographic diversity helps smooth out the gross power output. In experiment, SMUD put 74 sensors on solar arrays and obtained data every minute. While the power output of an individual array might spike radically up and down, collectively the power output moves toward a somewhat smooth average.

"We won't solve everything with geographic diversity, but it has really smoothed out some of the concern," he said.

SMUD is also working on a pilot with SunPower and GridPoint -- there's a combo for you -- to combine smart grid functionality with commercial and residential solar arrays. The idea is to use smart grid technologies to help shift peak power.

--Finally, I recently returned from vacation in France and was pleased to see signs in almost every town protesting shale gas drilling. Gaz de Schiste, Non Merci, they read. Not everyone buys the "gas is great" argument.