Bloom Energy is the maker of the Bloom Box, an innovative, fuel cell server which generates electricity without the burning of fossil fuels. Since 2011, Bloom Boxes have been purchased by the likes of Google, eBay and Wal-Mart to help them generate clean energy to run their businesses and thus, to reduce their carbon footprints. Recently, the sports industry got into the act.
When I first heard about Bloom Energy (and its Bloom Box fuel cell server that promised abundant clean energy with little to no emissions) in a 60 Minutes piece in 2010, I was intrigued. After all, how great is it that the technology exists to convert fuel (fossil or renewable-based) into electricity through a clean process rather than having to burn it and to do it 24-7, thus eliminating the intermittency problem inherent in electricity generated by solar panels or wind turbines.
Bloom Box fuel cell servers, similar to those installed at the SAP Center, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (Photo Credit: GreenTechMedia).
Since then I’ve wondered if/when the business would take off and if/when sports facilities would buy in.
The answer to the first question is that, while Bloom Energy has not changed the energy world yet, it, unlike many Clean Tech startups, continues to build its business and to attract investors. The brakes on a more exponential growth rate have been cost (no surprise) and also a lack of financing (the two are of course related).
Bloom has been making strides on cost reduction so that “change the world moment” may be in the offing in 2014-15. More about financing a little later.
Sports facilities have begun to see the light. In May 2012, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks installed two, 200 kW Bloom Boxes at the SAP Center, making it the first growth sports venue to utilize fuel cell technology as a supplemental electricity source (replacing 25% of grid-based electricity on game days!). A 2nd NHL club doubled down on Bloom Boxes, with the Honda Center, home of the Stanley Cup contending Anaheim Mighty Ducks taking the plunge (same sort of reduction percentage) in August 2013.
Kudos deservedly go to the NHL for being ahead of the greening curve among North American professional sports leagues, but they are not alone as the golf world gave Bloom Boxes a shot last year. TaylorMade-adidas, one of the leading club manufacturers in the world, installed Bloom Boxes at their main manufacturing facility in Carlsbad, CA.
Each 100 kW Bloom Box costs around $750,000 and since San Jose, Anaheim and TaylorMade have installed 4-5, the upfront expense is significant. That means financing is crucial–some very worthy Bloom Energy projects died in the planning stage without it.
Leave it to the sports industry to at least begin to figure out the Bloom Box financing puzzle. The Mighty Ducks, TaylorMade-adidas, Bloom and Bank of America (BofA) worked together on a lease financing program in which BofA provided the upfront funding. Let’s hope these are the first of many such deals that will allow Bloom Energy (and other fuel cell makers) to scale up quickly.