Archive for February 27th, 2010

This K.R. Sridhar, the man behind Bloom Energy, the company that was the source of a media blitz this past week as they unveiled their Bloom Boxes, which are a  type of small power plants.  Using fuel cell technology, these units are powered by natural gas, ethanol or bio-gas at this point and produce electricity in a highly efficient, quiet and cleaner way than traditional powerplants that burn coal or other hydrocarbon fuels.  A unit roughly the size of a parking space can can power a hundred or more U.S.  homes and many more than that in other parts of the world.

Currently, Bloom is only producing commercial units like the ones that are currently in use on the corporate campuses of over 20 large companies such as Google, Ebay and Walmart.  They have plans to unveil in 5-10 years a residential unit that will be the size of a mini-fridge and will power the average home and will cost in the $3000 range.

What’s so great about this?  Besides lower energy costs and less pollution?  For starters, fewer widespread power outages like the ones recently caused by downed power lines due to snowstorms.  The power sources would be much nearer so the need for huge, vulnerable transmission lines would be lessened.  And there is the energy saved by not having to transmit electricity over these lines for long distances.  Almost half of the electricity produced in this country is lost, wasted, in transit via these lines.  Half.  Imagine how much money in our economy could be saved and how much  pollution could be averted by reducing  our electrical production by half.

This would also lessen the effect of the current energy grid.  Power generation would become a very local thing and be less susceptible to blackouts and other systemic failures that we’ve seen in the past.  The very idea of a grid might fade away.   This would also be a perfect solution for developing nations or for nations whose infrastructures have been decimated by disaster, such as Haiti.

Is it perfect?  No.  Still uses hydrocarbon fuels.  But the efficiency of the the units and the savings from less waste in transmission might extend the life of fuels like natural gas for many generations. 

But it’s a start, a step forward towards a new paradigm for how we see and make energy as a part of our lives.  Something we truly need to address…

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