Home > CO2-Free Energy (Example: Solar Electricity), Fande = Fact & Evidence, The Economy > Bravo to the Bloom Box: more efficient natural-gas electricity

Bravo to the Bloom Box: more efficient natural-gas electricity

I hope it’s real. It sounds too good to be true. Cleaner burning natural-gas electricity it is. CO2-free electricity it ain’t.

The Sun, unlike natural gas, is just there every day…kickin’ it in the sky. Totally reliable, the Sun. Every day. And another benefit of solar electricity: it’s free! We just soak up the energy with modules attached to our roofs. They look really…smart. ; ) They being the homeowners and the way the home makes its own energy.

Sit out on a beach for two hours any day of the spring and summer, the main generators of solar electricity, and you will feel the burn. That nuclear reactor in the sky has a lotta power coming off it.


The “net metering” system has often been compared to allowing a customer to treat the grid as a giant battery. Because solar generation and power usage fluctuate by time of day – and by season, for that matter – customers are getting credit for the times when their units are generating more power than they consume.

For example, a residence or business might pile up credits during the sunny summer months that will offset the periods of winter when they consumer more than they generate….

Promotion of solar energy is not just good for the environment, solar development and installation is one of the few growth sectors in this state during the Great Recession.

“And these are jobs that can’t be outsourced,” said Sara Birmingham, director of Western policy for Solar Alliance, the chief sponsor of the California state bill, [which will increase the number of homes eligible to generate solar electricity credits into the utility grid].



Versatility and up-front cost: A 100-kilowatt Bloom server array costs around $700,000 to $800,000, or $7,500 a kilowatt, after incentives that cover about 50 percent of the costs. The company hopes to have home versions that generate a few kilowatts and cost about $3,000 in 10 years, but they don’t exist now.

Bloom, however, doesn’t scale down yet. It sells its 25-kilowatt boxes four units at a time. Home and small businesses need not apply yet. Solar systems span the kilowatt and megawatt range. Ergo, when it comes to financing and flexibility, solar wins for now….

Maintenance: Solar wins here. Solar panels require a minimum of maintenance. Dust them occasionally and wipe off the snow and you are done. Bloom servers will be monitored closely by their initial buyers. The servers also contain fans and other mechanical objects. More handholding and repairs seem inevitable.

One of the big hurdles that Bloom will have to leap is the reliability of the ceramic/zirconium plates inside the fuel cell. These plates, which convert gas to electricity, must operate in an 800-degree Celsius environment without becoming distorted or corrupted. User data will be heavily scrutinized. Sources say that the plates have a lifetime of five years: replacement at this pace is contemplated at nine to 10 cents a kilowatt hour price. If replacement occurs at a faster rate, it could throw off the costs.

Warranty: Solar systems have warranties that last 20 years or more. Bloom currently offers a 10 year warranty. That will raise eyebrows.

Testing and certification: Solar and wind both have an advantage here. Underwriters’ Laboratory and hundreds of utilities have tested and tinkered with photovoltaic panels and wind turbines for years. Getting a solar field approved mostly revolves around obtaining financing. Bloom will have to go through the proctology exam of utility reliability testing. That could take a few years. On the other hand, if Bloom passes these tests well, sales will zoom.

Carbon emissions: Solar and wind win again. It takes about four years to work off the carbon footprint of a solar panel. The Bloom server continually emits carbon dioxide. The Bloom server emits about half of the carbon dioxide that would be generated if you bought power from a power plant, but it’s still carbon dioxide. Consumers can reduce their carbon footprint by stoking the box with biogas, but biogas remains an exotic substance. Most of the industrial gas sold and shipped in pipelines in the world comes from wells deep in the ground, not landfills or manure digesters.

Bloom’s patents discuss converting the waste carbon dioxide into a methane-like fuel by running the carbon dioxide through the fuel cell and adding water. It’s a fascinating, but extremely challenging idea. Effectively, that would be like making energy from Gerolsteiner bubbly mineral water and some power. In today’s press conference, Sridhar downplayed the carbon dioxide-to-fuel idea, which makes it sound like the idea might be on the far back burner. Still, Bloom represents a step forward compared to power plants.


Click below for the full segment with CBS’ TV news magazine “60 Minutes”…7:53 to hear about the “natural gas” machine, known as the Bloom Box. Over all, this could be a bitchin’ machine…a natural-gas powered machine.


Edited version on youtube:

Fande = Fact & Evidence; Cande = Conjecture & Exaggeration

Bring your Fande, leave your Cande!

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