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Bloom Energy vs Solar Power. And the winner is… both.

Photo: Flickr/TheImpulsiveBuy

Everyone’s been emailing me about the recent 60 minutes report about Bloom Energy’s little silver box that will power a home for 3,000 bucks  in “5 to 10 years” and thus ruin the solar industry. Not quite. In fact, the two technologies go together like Beer and peanuts. I’ll explain why below, but first,  if you didn’t catch it on 60 Minutes, look it up.

So do fuel cells like Bloom Energy mean that solar is soon to be a dinosaur technology like coal powered plants? Not at all, and here’s a bunch of reasons why:

  • First of all, as you’ll note in this brief report, a little Bloom box does not work by itself. It needs an outside fuel source. That fuel source can be fossil fuels like dirty coal or cleaner natural gas, or, as stated in this report at about 8 minutes in, renewable energy such as solar.
  • Second, as noted in this report, the Bloom Box is still in its experimental phase. There are still kinks to be worked out, and there’s long term history to show that it will last 25 years. Solar has been around since the 1950’s and has a great, reliable track record.
  • Solar is ready now, today. According this 60 minutes report, even if all the kinks were worked out, you’re still not going to see a Bloom box in your house for 5 to 10 years. Maybe longer.
  • Solar, you can have tomorrow. Then, when and if the Bloom Energy box becomes available for your home or business, you can use your solar panels as the fuel source.
  • Finally, if you wait for the Bloom Box, you’re going to continue polluting, as well as losing money to the ever rising utility rates. And what if 5 to 10 years from now, all of the Bloom boxes go bust for some unexpected reason, and they never develop a residential system? You’ve waited for nothing. You’ve lost 5 to 10 years of energy savings for well meaning, but failed device. Because there’s no question the solar will be there. The Bloom box…not so certain.

Honest, we want Bloom to succeed because it’s good for the planet, plus solar can be its fuel source. So, it’s a win-win. But as I said, solar is ready and available now. It’s also clean and affordable now, thanks to local and federal rebates.

Find out if solar is right for you now, then check out Bloom Energy later.

Last modified: March 4, 2020

16 thoughts on “Bloom Energy vs Solar Power. And the winner is… both.

  1. Avatar for Dan Dan says:

    Scuderi clean energy is the better company by far. Bloom is billions in debt and has only a 60 min loveletter.

  2. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    The scuderi energy group product work, does not break down and will surpass bloom in every way. Look at scuderi and see why.

  3. Avatar for martin martin says:

    Although utility-interactive to point of connection, appears one below requires a solution for replenishment?

    http://bloomenergy.com/products/solid-oxide-fuel-cell-animation/

    Nonetheless, let’s keep the solutions simple and to the point.

    2008 National Electrical Code® (NEC® ) Article 692 Fuel Cell Systems – point of connection NEC® 692.65.
    2008 NEC® Article 690 Solar Photovoltaic Systems – point of connection NEC® 690.64.
    In, 2011 NEC® Article 694 Small Wind Electric Systems – point of connection NEC® 694.64.

    Now the situation of Class II Group F? 2008 NEC® article 500 Hazardous (Classified) Locations, Classes I, II, and III, Divisions 1 and 2. Coal – NEC® 500.5 Classifications of Locations (B) Class II Group Classifications (2) Group F. “Atmospheres containing combustible carbonaceousdusts … that have been sensitized by other materials so that they present an explosion hazard. Coal, carbon black, charcoal, and coke dusts are examples of carbonaceous dusts”

    Conversely the thinking of point of connection, at the point of use, to the point of coupling, (E0) to the line side (E1) for a specific area (E2), measured in w/m2 …… By the way (E3), Fuel Cells, Solar Photovoltaic Systems, and Small Wind Electric Systems may all be ground and pole mounted. Simply power = voltage * current, energy = power * time as emergy = empower * time in the temporal dimension (E4) to measure physical change in our thinking to utility interactivity along the tesseract.

    In other words, cubes, rectangles with two wires +/-, or around rotation around a single point, our direction and magnitude of change to “renewable” energy, may be as simple as – 1, 2, 3 – the first, second, third, … derivatives of our position. Therefore, leadership, management, and direction in “renewable” energies, may not require an explanation, but an explication?

    Quite insightful comments and calculations.

  4. Avatar for rooferguy rooferguy says:

    Fuel cells are all about ongoing costs. Solar is all about up-front costs. Let’s do some quick math to see how the numbers really compare. The units are tricky, so I’d be happy if someone checks my math.

    A 100kw commercial system costs about $5/watt of installed capacity (no incentives). In a year this system will generate about 1.5 kwh per watt of capacity. Panels are guaranteed for 25 years. So over 25 years the $500,000 system will generate 3,750,000 kwh, or $0.13/kwh. For now let’s assume zero maintenance and zero salvage value. Also assume an energy escalation rates about the same as the discount rate.

    A 100kw Bloom Box costs $15/watt of installed capacity (no incentives). Let’s assume natural gas prices of $1/therm, 50% efficient operation (half electric output, half heat), and 29.3 kwh/therm. On an ongoing basis, the fuel cell produces electricity at $0.02/kwh (1*.5/29.3). Over the 10 year life of the fuel cells, assuming operation at 50% capacity and zero salvage value, the capital costs are $0.09/kwh (15/10*.5/365/24*1000). Let’s also arbitrarily assume (since we have no other data), that maintenance costs are $0.02/kwh over that 10 year period. Total costs are then $0.13/kwh.

    Coincidentally, commercial solar costs and commercial fuel cell costs are about the same — assuming no incentives. There are two big differences, as Michael correctly points out. First, costs of fuel cells will decline — but so will costs of solar. It’s a crapshoot as to which costs will decline faster. Second, costs of fuel will definitely go up — the advantage is clearly towards solar.

    Finally, based on my experience installing commercial and residential solar power systems, I expect that installation costs for small fuel cells (residential scale) will be much higher than expected because they may not always be integrated to the grid. Unlike solar power inverters that shut down when grid power is interrupted, fuel cell generators will probably need to be installed so they power local loads only. In other words, you will need to re-wire circuits so that the fuel cell cannot possibly backfeed the grid — it can only directly power appliances and lighting in the home as these appliances are used.

  5. Avatar for Christof Christof says:

    Aha…so it is indeed Bloom (and natural gas) vs. Solar, at least for the next decade. Thank you Ponderer for the clarification.
    .-= Christof´s last blog ..Solar leasing now available in North Texas =-.

  6. Avatar for Ponderer Ponderer says:

    Am I missing something here? Why on earth would you connect solar to a fuel cell? Solar produces electricity and you use it. Fuel cells take fuel (liquid or gas) and produce electricity . . . and you use it!

    Solar could produce the fuel, but that would necessitate a whole bunch of additional equipment (especially if you are making hydrogen and oxygen from water — these are very volatile chemicals).

    This issue made no sense in the original story and should have been edited out. Undoubtedly the editor knew little about it and/or weren’t digging very deep at all. Now its got you guys chasing rabbits.

    The question I have is, where does the waste go? Sure, the by-product may be just water vapor, but without a verrrrry pure fuel source you are going to have gunk that needs to be filtered out (or spewed into the atmosphere). At minimum, each box would need to be fitted for the particular fuel. Change the fuel and you’ll have to revise the box at additional costs. No?

    The real beauty of solar is that there is almost no maintenance and, as stated before, the fuel is FREE!

    1. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

      Well, Ponderer, you may be right. We were just going off the 60 minutes report and now the NY Times reporting above. I think the other key here is if it’s not solar, then it’s likely going to be natural gas, a commodity that changes your operating costs. Plus, there’s only a 10 year warranty on Bloom, where solar panels have at least a 20 year warranty, though often 25, and perform longer than that. Solar is also 95% maintenance free, and the fuel, sunshine, is absolutely free. Bloom, we’ll see how maintenance free it is as time goes on.

      In any case, Bloom, according to the NY Times, does have a patent that can integrate solar, but they say it won’t be ready for… 10 years.

  7. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

    Another good Solar vs. Bloom Energy Box post. Much more in depth than my analysis above, and points out a lot more of advantages and disadvantages of solar, wind, and bloom. Check it out, and let us know what you think back here.

    http://www.solarfeeds.com/greentech-media/11333-solar-vs-fuel-cells

  8. Avatar for Christof Christof says:

    What is the advantage of having a home solar-system that feeds electricity into a Bloom Box, rather than one which: a) directly powers one’s home electric; b) does “a” and feeds extra electricity back into the grid?

    I guess the answer is that, allegedly, the Bloom Box will intensify the energy production of the home solar system and thereby increase its output. Of course, by how much, is rather unclear, although based on the NYT blog piece you provide a link to above, it would appear to be somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

    I think I’m correct here. But I’m still trying to wrap my head around why I’d want a solar system + a Bloom Box. Why not just size the solar system bigger? (I guess if you have a small amount of solar-available roof, then maybe adding a Bloom Box might make sense)….
    .-= Christof´s last blog ..Can’t afford a Nissan LEAF? Rent one with Hertz =-.

  9. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

    More information about solar and Bloom from the NY Times Green Inc blog:

    (http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/a-secretive-start-up-raises-the-curtain/#more-40553)

    One byproduct of fuel cells is water, and Bloom has patented and proved a fuel-cell design that could also tap electricity generated by solar panels and wind farms to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen that could be used as fuel in the cell.

    “That’s the killer app,” said Mr. Sridhar, who said such a product probably would introduced within a decade.

    Mr. Brown wished his rival well.

    “We hope they’re successful because that it brings more attention to fuel cells,” he said. “But if they’re not successful, it is not good for the industry because it looks like it’s just more hype about fuel cells.”

    This article also notes that fuel cells on last 5 to 10 years, whereas solar has proven to last 25 years and longer.

    Again, these two can work together…and probably will.

  10. Avatar for Christof Christof says:

    Tor, Seems to me that Bloom Energy is explicitly casting the Bloom Box in competition with renewable energy rather than in concert with it. Here’s an excerpt from Bloom Energy’s press release now running on Business Wire:

    “Bloom Energy announced today several industry-leading customers for its Bloom Energy Server(TM), a patented solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology that provides a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable alternative to both today’s electric grid as well as traditional renewable energy sources.

    This just reinforces the view that I got from the 60 minutes piece.

    Here’s the link to the press release —
    http://tinyurl.com/y8hrkzz
    .-= Christof´s last blog ..Can’t afford a Nissan LEAF? Rent one with Hertz =-.

    1. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

      Christof, I would do the same thing in their position, but the fact remains that they are saying that it will be available in 5 to 10 years for home owners. That’s a huge window and a lot of time and electricity and solar savings to waist. Plus, as stated above and in the report, the two can work together, so you can be saving money NOW, and later with an additional Bloom box tied to your solar panels.

      That’s my take away for consumers. Big commercial sites can do the same combo now instead of using CO2 emitting gas or other fuels.

  11. Avatar for Christof Christof says:

    Tor, couldn’t help myself and I had to weigh in on the Bloom Box on my own site. I have a different, less optimistic take than yours. The scene I have the biggest problem with is the one at EBay where Stahl makes the rooftop solar system at EBay look like a backward, inefficient (dumb?) dinosaur compared to Ebay’s Bloom Box installation. Anyway, I write more about it on SolarChargedDriving.Com (I can’t seem to post the direct link in this comment)
    .-= Christof´s last blog ..Hawaii gets its first solar-charged plug-in station =-.

  12. Avatar for Michael Powers Michael Powers says:

    The big winner in this story is “distributed generation.” As utility customers begin to understand they can produce some portion of their own power cost-effectively, they will demand that the utility company change from being a “power-making” company to a “power-moving” company. (About time!)

    Plus, not clear from the video, but doubtful that the Bloom box will respond quickly enough to meet 100% of customers’ needs (i.e., off-grid). If not, you are still grid-tied which helps advance “net metering” concept — which is good for all renewables.

    More at http://www.terrawatts.com.

  13. Avatar for Christof Christof says:

    Very interesting. The way it’s framed toward the end of the 60 minutes piece on the Bloom Box — when e-bays’ solar installation is compared to the natural gas powered bloom box, it does seem like the bloom box is being cast as a replacement to solar rather than as something that could be powered by it. Seems like the biogas/nat. gas power is being pumped up. That’s too bad. Could a 5.5 kW system power a bloom box? Or does it require concentrated, intense energy produced by the burning of gas?
    .-= Christof´s last blog ..Hawaii gets its first solar-charged plug-in station =-.

    1. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

      At this point, who knows, Christof. There aren’t enough details. Perhaps we’ll know more on Wednesday when they officially launch, but there seemed to be enough info in 60 minutes to say that they can work together. (Or, at least I know that the solar works. Remains to be seen how long the Bloom box will last, though I hope it is the answer to many energy problems.)

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