Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Bloom Energy Launches Fuel Cell Leasing Program 

Bloom Energy announced a new leasing program in conjunction with Bank of America Merrill Lynch that aims to make fuel cells more accessible. 

Datacenter companies looking to make the transition to clean, onsite energy now have one more option available to them. On Tuesday, Bloom Energy announced a new leasing program in conjunction with Bank of America Merrill Lynch that allows businesses to acquire its fuel cells without significant capital investment.

Bloom builds solid oxide fuel cells that transform natural gas (or biogas) into electricity via a chemical reaction rather than combustion. Several high-profile companies, such as eBay, Apple and AT&T, are already using the giant refrigerator-sized cells to power their datacenters.

EBay first implemented Bloom's fuel cells at its Topaz datacenter in Utah. In doing so, eBay was able to generate six megawatts of electricity onsite. By switching to fuel cells and relying on the utility grid as a secondary power source, eBay did away with its backup generators and uninterruptible power supply, expensive elements of traditional datacenters.

Apple, too, has jumped aboard the fuel cell train. At its Maiden, North Carolina, datacenter, Apple implemented 50 Bloom fuel cells, which produce ten megawatts of electricity. Apple's fuel cells use biogas and provide more than 83 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year, making it the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the United States.

AT&T signed a contract with Bloom Energy in 2011 that helped to power 28 different AT&T sites in both California and Connecticut. And this past June, Verizon announced it would be installing Bloom Energy fuel cell systems at three California sites, including two call-switching centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco and a datacenter in San Jose. The cells are expected to generate more than 16 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity each year.

"The ability to power our facilities and operations with our own on-site alternative energy sources helps Verizon meet our long-term sustainability goals, while also enhancing the resiliency of our networks and reliability of our services," said James Gowen, Verizon's chief sustainability officer. "This is more than the right thing to do for the environment; it is also the right thing to do for our customers and our business."

While these giant corporations have the resources to invest in capital-intensive projects, others are more cash-strapped. The National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine, identified high capital cost at the most significant factor limiting fuel cells' market penetration. With current fuel cell technology costing about $4,000 per kilowatt, the research center says the figure would need to fall to $1,500 per kilowatt to become competitive. Bloom has not disclosed how much its fuel cell costs to operate per kilowatt, but some estimates claim it might be as high as $10,000 per kilowatt.

By reducing upfront costs, Bloom Energy's leasing program will enable more companies to add the clean energy source to their repertoire.

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