Bloom Energy, which first revealed its Bloom Energy Server fuel cells on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday, held an invite-only event in Silicon Valley Wednesday to show off its device in person.
That's where we got a chance to ask some bottom-line questions. Forget the Silicon Valley hype -- will this cut our energy bills?
Fuel cells are nothing new. They're commonly used in spaceships and submarines. However, Bloom Energy says it's developed a solid oxide cell that does not require the use of precious metals or undependable membranes. Metals and membranes have made previous fuel cell technologies expensive and difficult to maintain.
"This is a completely different animal," said Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers.
Bloom CEO K.R. Sridhar said companies using the device sound pay "between 9 and 10 cents per kilowatt hour" to draw power out of the device. Most industrial customers pay around 13 cents an hour for electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric.
The Bloom estimate, however, includes tax credits and other incentives from state and federal governments. All Bloom Energy Servers have -- so far -- been installed in California only. California has strong financial incentives available to companies that invest in green technology.
There's some financial magic, in other words, to go with the technological magic here.
While Bloom has not asked a neutral third party to examine its techonology or the expense of running a device, Sridhar pointed to current customers: eBay, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, FedEx, Walmart and Cox Cable, all of whom have installed at least one "Bloom Box" at a company facility. Executives from each company sang the praises of the device at the press event.
Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr, whose firm backs Bloom Energy financially, points out the executives collectively represent 4,000,000 employees.
Bloom Energy had been secretive about its technology previously. Board member (and former Secretary of State) Colin Powell said, "Now we're no longer hiding. People asked me 'why are you hiding' and I said 'I don't know!' Now it's out and in the open."
Some of it, at least. We're still waiting for more details on Bloom's numbers.