Telecommunications giant AT&T plans to install Bloom Energy fuel cells (aka "Bloom Boxes") at 11 of its sites in California, in a bid to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.
AT&T is in good company: So far, Bloom Energy has scored deals with high-profile companies including Bank of America, eBay, FedEx Express, Google, Kaiser Permanente, Safeway, Staples and Walmart. And those are just the companies that have announced deals publicly.
Said John Schinter, director of energy for the teleco:
"AT&T is committed to finding more sustainable ways to power our business operations as part of our efforts to incorporate alternative and renewable energy sources into our energy portfolio. Bloom Energy provided us with a solution that was not only cost-comparable but also allows us to minimize environmental impact."
AT&T is already an extensive user of solar energy: it reached nearly 3 million kilowatt-hours of solar production in 2010 and has contracts for an additional 19 solar deployments in place for this year.
Bloom Energy uses solid oxide fuel cells to help sites produce their own electricity on site. In the case of AT&T, the cells will produce 7.5 megawatts of capacity. That's about 62 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, or the amount of power it takes to run 5,600 homes for one year. The hope is that the boxes will help AT&T reduce its carbon dioxide emissions for these sites by up to 50 percent, or 250 million pounds. The technology should be operational by the middle of 2012. The sites where they will be installed include the California cities of Corona, Fontana, Hayward, Pasadena, Redwood City, Rialto, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose and San Ramon.
Although Bloom Energy gets a lot of attention, there are actually several other more established players in the market for fuel cells that are used as a primary power source (as opposed to simply serving as a back-up source). I actually spoke with one of them, UTC Power, yesterday. Market watcher Pike Research rates UTC Power and FuelCell Energy as the best-positioned players in the prime fuel cell market. Bloom Energy rates as a Challenger in the category, as you can see by the Pike Research chart.
When I spoke with Mike Brown, the vice president of government affairs and general counsel for UTC Power, he said the commercial candidates for using fuel cells as a prime power source are those with a predictable consumption pattern. The market conditions also need to be right: It needs to be more expensive for this companies to buy power off the grid, all things considered, than sourcing it from the cells. Right now, the hottest states for the prime fuel cell market include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, Brown said.