NTT jumps on Bloom Energy fuel-cell bandwagon

The telecommunications service provider's data center in San Jose has installed 500 kilowatts of capacity, powering about 7 percent to 8 percent of its energy needs.

NTT America's vice president of data center infrastructure, Tarif Abboushi, said the time was right to install Bloom Energy Servers at his company's facility in San Jose. But he hasn't always been a fan of fuel cells, in large part because of the heat they typical generate. Who needs more heat in a data center, right?

So why would an admitted skeptic invest in fuel cells to help partially power his company's priceless data center resources? Abboushi said the company's investment was inspired by a perfect storm of motivating factors, including the efficiency of the Bloom technology and the significant state and federal financial incentives that NTT America received to support the project. Those incentives will help the project realize a return on investment in about three years.

"NTT is interested at both its headquarters and in the U.S. in energy conservation and green solutions, particularly for the data center. When we saw this was a viable option, we wanted to become one of the early adopters," he said.

That initial installation in San Jose includes five servers that have a combined capacity of 500-kilowatts and the ability to produce about 4.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That is roughly 7 percent to 8 percent of the data center's annual power needs. The technology takes up about seven spaces in the facilities parking lot.

The Bloom "boxes" are connected to a natural gas pipeline and use renewable biogas that is generated from a California dairy farm.

As I already mentioned, NTT America expects to realize a return on the Bloom technology investment in about three years. Abboushi says the company expects to use the fuel cells for about seven years. Bloom Energy is on the hook to make that happen; the contract between NTT America and Bloom Energy includes maintenance and replacement of a unit if one goes south. Don't expect to see NTT America install more fuel cells here, though, at least until the technology becomes smaller and more efficient.

If you want to read more about who is using fuel cells, check out this gallery, "Off the grid: 10 corporate and commercial fuel cell deployments."


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