Thursday, March 4, 2010

Is a Bloom Box in your data center future

Since the announcement of Bloom Energies Bloom Box there has been considerable news on all fronts.  I even hear that people are planning to use the units to "save energy".  What exactly can a Bloom Box do for you and your data center?
It is quite simply a form of a fuel cell.  Basically it converts a fuel to electricity with an electrochemical process similar.  A generator converts fuel to electricity via a mechanical process.  The Bloom Box does indeed use fuel (natural gas) in it's process, so it can't be used to "save energy".  It does use a fairly clean process though to generate the energy.

How can a company utilize one of these units and what is the ROI?  For an example one could us the units in a corporate data center environment in replacement of the UPS and generator.   Their ES-5000 unit is rated at 100KW and can be grouped with other units for more KW capacity.

A typical corporate data center might be rated at 200KW with two 200KW UPS units for redundancy and a 500KW generator (extra capacity for cooling).  The two UPS units will require battery replacement every 3 to 4 years as well.  Also the UPS units are located inside and will require significant cooling and space.  Most UPS units are less than 95% efficient as well (energy loss in charging and heat).

The Bloom ES-5000 units are outdoor rated so there would be considerable less need for cooling and a gain in indoor space from the removal of the UPS units.  The removal of the UPS units would also result in some increased electrical efficiency.  The ES-5000 only produces 100KWs though, so 4 of them would be required, 5 for some redundancy.  There is no need to keep the 5th unit idle though, it can be busy providing power to the rest of the building or the power grid till it is needed in the data center.  This would provide some cost savings and still provide the needed redundancy for the data center in case of a unit failure.

So that is our comparison two traditional 200KW  UPS and one 500KW diesel generator VS five Bloom ES-5000 units.  Up front costs, difficult as there are many incentives for green and local generated energy which the Bloom ES-5000 would qualify for.  There are more and more of these incentives becoming available.  However without the incentives the five Bloom ES-5000 units would certainly cost more (around $2.5 million more based on Bloom articles).

They can run on commercial natural gas local generated natural gas.  Assuming no local supply of natural gas, the operating cost for the facility would be cut in half for current prices of electricity and natural gas.  For our example would likely result in a savings around $225k annually.  Yielding a return on investment of  about 10 years (without incentives). With the incentives and possible carbon trading, these figures would move more in the favor of the Bloom technology.