My mother texted me last night from Hawaii to ask me about Bloom Energy, the mysterious energy start-up that I've been vaguely wondering about since I saw an article about them in Business 2.0 magazine in 2007.
Seems she was watching a segment about the company on "60 Minutes," even though if you visit the company URL I've given you above, you'll see that Bloom Energy (backed by none other than venture capitalist John Doerr of Compaq, Netscape and Google fame) hasn't officially launched much messaging yet. So we've got to rely on the "60 Minutes" coverage.
In any case, Bloom has finally bloomed, if you will. The "Bloom Box" is essentially a giant fuel cell, that uses oxygen and some sort of fuel source (doesn't matter what kind) to create electricity. No combustion necessary, so this could use solar or wind or any of the other renewable sources you'd love to use. (Watch the video link I've provided, it is much more eloquent than I can be.) Supposedly, the cost for the box will be under $10,000.
This is a huge, paradigm-shifting idea, of course. First off, this addresses the classic problem associated with renewable energy: that it is a transient, unpredictable thing. In order for renewable energy to really have a chance as an alternative to fossil fuels, we need ways to store the electricity produced and ways to feed that power back into the grid if we're not using all of it.
I liken the thinking behind the Bloom Box to the idea of distributed computing: which enabled thousands of businesses to benefit from information technology, even though they couldn't afford or support a mainframe computer. If you buy into that idea, why shouldn't you buy into the idea of distributed energy that is both off the grid and on it, to boot.
If the Bloom Box concept works, and that is a big if obviously, this will be a ground-breaking idea.