End to All Power Problems

Has anyone heard of Bloom Energy? It's a new technology that many tech companies are now using to generate power off of the grid.

It takes methane (or another similar fuel) and uses fuel cells to chemically convert fuel to power. Check out the 60 minutes segment on it, pretty amazing. I think it could be a huge paradigm type shift for the entire country.

It actually works, and they are hoping to be able to get the cost down to $3000 per house. No more power bill, only a gas bill, and we have tripled our Natural Gas reserves in the country since 2007. Fewer power plants, many fewer transmission wires, less oil........

Oh yeah, and most importantly, clean power to your audio gear.
Does it produce AC or DC? Will we need to convert all our gear to use DC? If DC, then an inverter will be needed- how noisy are those things? I bet they are super bad? I guess you could have a dedicated fuel cell for the HE stereo and keep everything DC and another for all the other things.

Fortunatly, I live in an area that does lots of hydroelectic power, so coal, oil,wind, gas is not needed.
Hate to be the wet blanket but the way I see it happening is.. All those people at the power companies are out of a job and because we have very little manufacturing left in this country the power cells are made in China. Oh ya, the power used to manufacture those power cells is produced by dirty cool fired plants.
The problem is the obsession with solar and wind, at the expense of other approaches. I've read about the Bloom approach...I just hope the greens don't reject it out of hand because it's a "fossil fuel".
this is a decade away
When Al Gore lowers his footprint I will look into mine, till then they can all go to............
6550c, their are 2 kinds of invertors.....True Sine Wave and the 'others'. The 'others' would seem to be pretty noisy, but are good in your car for powering laptops, charging your cell phone or a map light. True sine wave inverters with even modest power conditioners will make good, clean power.

Al 'Where's my corporate Jet?' Gore uses an astronomical amount of electricity at his house, even after the solar retrofit and alleged improvements. Of course, it is a pretty large house with staff, but the per capita usage is still wacky high.
Like the force of gravity, the market will determine what the solution is. If this box is cheaper and has a favorable ROI, then the individual homeowner and business owner will buy it.
Chadnliz- jeez, don't know where to start with that one other than two wrongs do not make a right.

As for methane, it is not just a fossil fuel, but is very easy to produce with organic waste products. The simplest example is cow manure. Farms have been producing their own heat and power that way for years. It would not take much to use this tech with a methane digester hooked up to a homes waste lines. Instead of expending energy to get rid of it, we'd get energy from it. The start up costs would be high, but as energy prices continue to rise it may look more attractive.
Government policy has a LOT to do with this issue.

IF there were huge tax credits for say.....home methane production, you'd see more of it.
Likewise, an increase in the tax on fuel for cars would tend to decrease the amount used and 'push' those who could afford it, toward higher mileage cars.

One factor in all this 'green' stuff I've not heard mentioned is the environmental cost of this conversion. Solar Cells, for example, are manufactured using many of the techniques also used by semiconductor manufacturers. The material used for these cells is CZ grown silicon which is a very energy intensive process.
these are not solar cells, and they don't need any gov't incentives to get them going. The marginal cost to use this technology is projected to be lower than buying power from the grid, and use less infrastructure.

To me this is not a "green" play, heck I live in Houston,TX home of big Oil, big Nat Gas, big Power (get the theme?), and I still think this is the most exciting technology (if it works as it seems it will) in my life time.

This should make a huge dent in oil consumption, and fuel a a massive surge in electric car demand. All of these new products are huge economic drivers that coud drive our econonmy for years to come.

I hope it works.
4est I can rest easy knowing I would win a contest of footprints anyday over most any of the hypocrits who scorn others while ignorant of their own lifestyle.
Didnt hear a word from Al in months, not during elections or anything............looks like somebody convinced him he is a fool and should stand down and SHUT UP. Cheers
Al's busy fending off Tippers lawyers right now. And Im with Macdadtexas- I hope this technology takes off as well.
I hope it does too but not because I think a Polar bear will hug me in a commercial. If they would just say its better to clean things up instead of selling flawed and feloniously squewed science maybe they would actually get somewhere.
Climate change is more a cycle than anything else and the far left needs to come to terms with it, once that happens real progress can be had and many MANY more will participate.
This is exciting stuff. Check out the vid.
I would bet at some point in time, big oil will have a problem with this.
Big Oil will be behind this like you wouldn't believe. Big oil also is big natural gas, and domestically. It would be the biggest profit making venture of all time. Now IPP's (independent power producers) and large regulated power companies (FPL, Southern Co, TVA, WPS, AEP), now they will have problems with this.
I'm afraid that government policy is involved, like it or not.

My electric bill is for say.....450KwH per month. Let's just say I could buy a methane genset of 1000KwH per month capacity. The rules make it mandatory that the power company 'buy' my power. However, they never cut me a check, but use my power to 'offset' my bill. So, I could have a ZERO bill and make the power company money.
Change the rules and make 'em PAY me cash, and the game changes.
Likewise tax incentives / rebates. If the unit costs 20,000$ it'll take me a LONG time to justify the cost thru traditional payback analysis. This is strictly a money calculation. But, if I can sell my power for cash or get a lot of money from the government till, than the equation changes.

If your statements about being less expensive and lower marginal cost are correct, than it is indeed a game changer. However, the other side is that you are now a 'power company' and may have additional rules / licensing and taxation to contend with. Maybe if you stay off-grid?
Point is, the Power Utilities simply won't take this laying down.

I remember a couple summers ago when Enron was SCREWING California by selling our electricity back to us for some wacky rate that FERC did absolutely NOTHING. (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) ......

This is, however, after all is said and done, a technology to keep track of.
Magfan, sorry butyou actually have all of that wrong from top to bottom.

This technology will generate power and only as much as you use. You will have no excess to sell back to your electric provider. You will only be billed for the Nat Gas that you use if this works as advertised. You are "off the grid" unless you keep a connection for back up. The power company has no say in this at all. They cannot stop you from generating your own power.

What happened with Enron in the Summer 2000 had nothing to do with FERC. The state of California deregulated their retail and wholesale power without knowledge of what they were doing. The utilities were no longer in charge of the grid, and were actually complicit in the legislation that passed allowing it. They should have paid more attention.

What Enron, Dynegy, El Paso, Aquila (and other charged in this F--- Up) did was they took advantage of some terrible rules concerning scheduling through the congested transmission point into SoCal. They would all schedule into the points, they would fill up and dis-allow a lot of the generation to flow. The companies would then take the generation off line and market would SCREAM up to find generation to fill the load.

Firstly, the companies that did this were not doing anything illegal, they were just short term thinking idiots who shot the goose who laid the golden egg. Part of the problem was that California regulations were so rediculous, that at the time there was not anywhere near enough transmission capacity (thanks tree huggers and Grey D), or generation so that caused the congestion. Who on earth would de-regulate then?? It was a cluster from Day 1.

The idiots at the mechant energy companies involved shot he goose that laid the golden egg because they were so short sighted they didn't think of the consequences beyond the quarterly returns from the prices they pushed the market to.

The other huge regions that were in the process of deregulating, Souther Co (GA, AL, parts of FL, MS), Florida Power and Light, Entergy (LA, AR and parts of TX), AEP, etc... all used this crisis to stop deregulation dead in it's tracks. This was a major cause for the Bankruptcies of Mirant, NRG, Calpine and the dissolution of a bunch of other merchant power developers, and none of it was good for the consumer. Oh yeah, and the "Smartest Guys in the Room" took about 15,000 jobs with them as they melted down.

Sorry, I digressed, but long story short, no the utilities won't be happy, but they cannot stop you from generating at your house, and you will have no excess power to sell back to the grid.

Also the state commisions, not FERC dictate your particular states' rules regarding retail (consumer) power. The good news for you in Cali, is that you will get this technology first, and many businesses there (Google, eBay, Cisco) have been the Beta test facilities, and Cali has great natural gas infrastucture, and access to lots of supply.

So sign up now.
FERC was supposed to have a say in interstate sales of power....thus the F in FERC. As I understand the Enron scam, they were moving power around and once it went 'out of state' they could get (demand) some pretty high prices.
Yes, California screwed themselves royal, and I'm still paying the price. The NIMBY delegation is even fighting some improvements....like a new power line to be strung from N to S.

I was using the solar sell-back model as an example. Here in California, we are a 'net metering' state. Except for my NEW electronic meter......Which won't go 'backwards'. You can never make a dime, but can actually Zero your bill. some places my insist on a connection fee. A precedent exists for a person who wanted NO power or utilities but was billed anyway...for the connection. I believe he lost in court, but he may have prevailed. I think that was in NYC.

Doesn't change the fact that government policies effectively influence events thru taxation, rebates, tax breaks and other....some often subtle incentives.

Watch home ownership rates if they take away the home mortgage interest rate tax deduction. I may make a difference. We'll see...perhaps.

Since the methane energy production is a 'demand' system, yes indeed, no excess to sell back, unless you tell it to overproduce and you are still on the grid. To remove yourself from the grid here in a small, Southern California town would probably be some kind of regulatory nightmare. No telling where that would lead, but I'll guarantee it'd be a hassle.
Great info Macdad. This could truely be a break through if the IPP's don't stop it. They have considerable bucks and hook ups to.
Exactly. It's not as if the virtues of this new technology will prevail simply because of 'greeness' or 'inexpensive'.

Lots of forces will be arrayed against this technology. As Mac states, lots of 'big' (pick your favorite) may favor it...since they will still be in the sales loop, but the IPPs? They are going to have a meltdown....and here in California, we have aggressive state supported research added to the mix.

I'm going to ask the city what it takes to go 'off grid' electrically. I'll bet that even if they GAVE me the methane system, it'd still cost a bundle. Who knows what loops you may have to jump thru? Do you have to have some kind of environmental report? Will you need to be permitted as a power producer? It may be easier out of the city or in county. The Indian Reservations will also get a vote, if they want it.

I like the technology....I did some light reading. If I could lease a small house-size unit...of say 400kwh capacity per month, then I'd love to see how it worked.

But, it ain't gonna be easy.
Here is link to Bloom Energy.

The 'Electricity Server' idea is pretty neat. The Unit in question is of manageable size, but certainly, at 100kw of 'neighborhood' size not individual home.


Leaving the current wiring in place and having a grid of these guys would theoretically work.

I wonder how well this idea scales up or down? Could it be made even semi-portable? Or how about a 5 or 10kw size for marine or jobsite use?
I'm not sure about advantage of this technology (other than size). Solid oxide fuel cells used by Bloom Energy have efficiency up to 60% while standard gas turbines have also 60% efficiency.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell was similar hot technology that ended up being a fiasco. Not only for security reasons but also for poor efficiency (in order of 10%) making it a really dirty fuel. Efficiency can be improved obtaining hydrogen by running hot steam thru the methane or coal containing methane but then huge amounts of CO2 would be produced.
Well, even if you use a gas turbine, such as GE, Seimens, Mitsubishi, Rolls Royce or Mitsui 7 series or the like, with new heat rates below 7, which acutally ups the effciency, you still need to put that power over transmission lines, which creates a rather sizeable line loss in the transmission of power. This would allow for production of power, at the source of use, and would not have any line loss. That means it's in reality much more efficient.

Also, you forget that if methane is used for these units, the first power units to be taken offline will be No 2 and No 7 Oil based units, then baseload coal units, that create HUGE amounts of CO2. Gas fired units will remain in the qeue for back up. Also, nothing is more expensive in the power business than the constrution and maintenence of transmission lines. That cost should be greatly reduced to eliminated.

Also, the efficiency of these now is 60% comparable to existing combined cycle natural gas fired generation, plus the upside of no transmission which makes them much cheaper, since you are not only not paying for the line loss, but for the cost of transmission across the utilities power grid. The more this efficiency goes up, the more in the money this gets. Even with a subsequent rise in gas cost that could be expected from increased Nat Gas demand, you are still way in the money since the US is now SO LONG nat gas. Also, the increase would not be 1:1, since it would be offset by large generation units that would have used natural gas being taken off line.
Macdadtexas, I remember when what my relative in London said in 70's after highly publicized push for much cheaper gas heating instead of electric heating. He said "Now when I finaly installed gas furnance gas cost doubled. They are not stupid"

Distributed energy sources to avoid transmission losses (if there aren't any in gas pipelines by friction and leaks) is good but solar is good as well since the peak demand for energy comes around noon while residential power can be returned to grid for credit. Silicon solar cell prices are dropping, sand is widely available and panels last 25 years. China is powering whole villages/towns with local solar power stations (in addition to nuclear power plants they build).

Some countries invest heavily in alternative energy. Denmark for instance, gets 20% of their energy from the wind.
I wish you COULD make silicon solar cells from sand. While sand may be part of the raw materials, the silicon is extremely pure and has to be 'grown' as a pure crystal, usually using the CZ method.


This is a pretty energy intensive process. Solar cells take a while to 'pay back' this energy investment.
Magfan, Just only one of Chinese solar companies LDK has annual silicon production capacity of 18,000 metric tons (40 million pounds). Countries like Germany, Italy and Czech Republic invest heavily into solar panels. Look at 2009 numbers:

Germany, Italy, Czech Republic = 68% = 4.96 GW
Other Europe = 9% = .66 GW
US = 7% = .51 GW
Japan = 6% = .43 GW
Rest of World = 10% = .73 GW

I know that about 8GW total is not a lot but it is not installed capacity but rather annual demand. It is predicted to jump to 20GW in 2011. 150% growth in 2 years (in slow economy) ain't bad but this is just the beginning.
Solar cells would be great for certain regions of the country, or if they could make them sensitive enough to work everwhere, but alas we are not there yet. Solar and wind, along with a quantum jump forward in the storage of power are the holy grail, and hopefully the future.

Also, those countries you named with Huge Solar % are miniscule as compared to the US as far as power consumption, and their gov'ts have underwritten the cost, so it's some of the most, if not the most expensive power on the planet.

Solar is not an answer right now, it's way too expensive. We are very long natural gas, in fact the US is about to start EXPORTING natural gas, when a few years back we were set to begin importing up to 15% of our natural gas by 2020. Well, thank God for shale gas, now let's use it to get away from foreign oil, and develope exportable technologies using it such as this.

I have been in the power and natural gas business for close to 20yrs now, and I am always shocked by how little people know about the biggest business in the world Energy. These new gas developement, which the US is helping other countries develope as well, could be a bridge from fossil fuels to economically viable sustainable, renewables. Plus, it's a huge new industry. Watch it, it's going to happen.
I simply can't argue with your numbers.
What KIND of silicon does LDK product? Poly? Single Crystal? It matters and makes a big difference.
Solar cells are NOT a panacea cure. They are fairly simple devices but DO require a very pure form of crystal silicon, though there ARE polycrystalline cells of lower efficiency. Polysilicon is easier to make.
Single crystal is grown by the CZ method which is pretty energy intensive, not to mention process critical. The silicon ingots are grown to the approximate diameter of the production line using them....In the old days 3" diameter was common while today? I've seen 8" wafers, but larger are in use.
Poly crystalline are less efficient at electricity production but also less energy and labor intensive to produce.
Once you have the raw material in 'wafer' form, cells are manufactured using techniques and tools familiar to any wafer fabrication worker, engineer or technician.
The other downside to solar cells is that they are less effective as they warm. I don't know the 'derate' for temperature, but hot, sunny desert places are not necessarily the best place for a solar farm. Especially in the summer!

That being said, solar will continue to be a player in the energy future. Both photovoltaic and using solar to heat water......basically a steam boiler run by sunshine.
Wind power where appropriate works well, too. Out near Palm Springs I've driven by several thousand wind generators. Up close, they make a real cool sound which is kind of eerie.
Thermal power from the ground /vulcanism. Biofuels.

They will all be around for a while in various uses.

Not that it matters, but I think Bloom Energy with the 'server' idea is pretty cool. Quiet, with an unknown upside potential, they may be useful.
Macdadtexas - solar is expensive to install but returns investment in 5-10 years while it lasts 25 years. It works even on cloudy days producing about 70% of max output. If only I had power meter that subtracts energy returned to grid I would install solar panels on my house.

Storage is a secondary issue since the peak of the energy usage is the biggest problem. Power stations that pump water from lower to higher basins to release water for the short time of the peak demand called "pumped-storage" are wasting a lot (20%) of energy - just to smooth out the peak thus to lower size (cost) of the main power station. This could be replaced by large solar station that produces energy during peak instead of wasting.

Gas is good and much cleaner than fossil fuels we use now. Some of them like brown coal are even forbidden in many countries. Any solution is better than doing nothing. Even simple measures like solar panels heating water (tubes and parabolic mirrors), that Magfan mentioned, are good and don't require any modification to infrastructure. It used to be popular and there is even one house in my neighborhood that has such panels on the roof.

Magfan - LDK produces high purity polysilicon, monocrystalline and multicrystalline ingots, wafers, cells and modules. There are many such companies but capacity of LDK (50 million pounds of silicon per year) shows what is going to happen soon.
Man, that is a HUGE capacity.

I tried making the numbers work for solar. Can't do it. Based on my monthly usage of <450kwh, the payback is so far over the horizon as to be a non-starter. All the fixed costs add up quickly and the fact that even at about 100 watts per square yard, I wouldn't need THAT many panels, it simply won't pay back while I'm still alive.

California is a 'Net Metering' state and they are REQUIRED to purchase your power, but only to the extent it offsets your bill. So, you'll never make a nickel, but could theoretically have ZERO electric bill.
My NEW electronic meter won't run backwards like the old meter. I'd like to hear what they have to say about getting my old meter back if I intended to 'Go Solar'.......
I'll give that a try and report back.
Magfan - to get some feel for the size and the cost I looked at Yingli Green 235P-29b poly-silicon solar panel. It delivers 235W and costs $550. Size wise it is 40"x65". 10 panels would be plenty for my energy usage returning power to grid most of the time except when air conditioner or heater would operate. Assuming 5hr of partial sunshine a day would make 1kWh per panel per day. 15 panels = 15kWh a day would make 450kWh per month - your energy needs. It would cost $8250 - one time expense with possible gov. rebates. There would be installation cost, inverters etc. so I'm not really sure what would be the total. Let assume total would be $10k. Assuming about $0.1 per 1kWh it would return investment in 18.5 years - too long. Statistics showed 7.5 years return but it could be in the best scenario with gov. rebates and quantity discounts. On the other hand it is 25 years of clean energy.
As near as I can 'figger' the best practice today is having a small inverter at EACH panel. Then you worry about AC from then after without the losses associated with DC.
Sync of inverter frequency may be an issue?

Your reference panel is about 2600 sq inches or over 18 sq feet....this is 2 square yards and quite in line with my 'rule of thumb' of 100 watts per square yard.

Polysilicon is MUCH less expensive than single crystal. In my application, when I need it most is summer when the AC kicks in most. I would love to see the 'derate' of this panel and see what it'll do in 90f weather. I also, in the summer, can count on somewhat more than 5 hours per day. I'd have to consult an 'expert' with all the local data for better than 'guess' numbers.
Now, assume I use 15kwh per day. I'd need to get most of that back in say.....8 hours in summer so I'd need nearly 2000 watts of panel, counting the derate. Maybe those 10 panels would get me there....maybe not. Winter would be another story and I may be able to count on only 5 or 6 hours, plus the inevitable 'weather loss'. So, to deliver 450 kwh in a month 'worst case', I'd need a few more panels. Maybe more than a few......I'll have to sit down and run some more serious numbers.
Point is, if I plan for worst case....that being the least amount of sun, I'll need more panels than run a surplus during the summer. That may be best, but not necessarily for me.
One PLUS for me is that one big flat side of my roof faces south and west. The MINUS is that I have a large slope in back. The sun sets on the highest part of the slope in winter and the lowest part in summer.....and since the sun 'moves' its point of set, is always in between those 2 points.

If I could go 'all in' for any less than 15,000$ I'd be surprised. Even if I got back say.......5,000$ in kickbacks, tax breaks and incentives, I'd still have to figure out how long it'd take me to use that much electricity. 100$ per month for 100 months....that's a tick over 8 years.....Better than I thought, but I'd still like to see some real numbers.
Maybe I could afford that class 'a' Pass amp, after all!

I'm also going to call SDGE next Monday, and spin a story. I'll tell 'em I've got one of there electronic meters and intend to go solar. The 'new' meter won't go backwards so It's either cut me a fixed benefit deal or give me my old meter back. Just to shake the tree, you understand.
Magfan, you need to check with someone at one of the non-profit "green" coalition about the meter issue. I'm not an advocate for gov't subsidized anything, but, it's seems at odds the the gov't is subsidizing these technologies, then the state commisions allowing the utilities to screw you on the rules.

There must be a group working on a class action suit against the utility. It should only have to go the state commision,and that can actually get resolution, in many states, very quickly.

Good luck.
I'd be just checking with the power company. I'm not going to go solar, but I'm just curious what they'll say. The push is on in Southern California for 'smart' metering. This is a prelude to charging differential rates based on time of day.
Name something the government doesn't have there hand in?
As a matter of 'public policy' and wanting 'green' I'm afraid that tax money will go to those changing over to solar and maybe even other technologies. Aren't there even some subsidies for certain 'green' cars?


2500W inverter is about $1700. I found LDK panels to be a little cheaper $500 for 235W.


Specification at the bottom of the page show 0.47%/degC temperature coefficient of max power with nominal air temperature of 20deg C. If higher temperatures cause loss of power then 20degC increase will cause 10% loss.
It is guaranteed to deliver 80% of nominal output after 25 years. Your meter situation is a serious drawback since largest loads (air conditioning, heating) should partially operate from the grid while during rest of the time energy should be returned to grid to get overall balance better than zero. Power companies sell energy and need people to be dependent. They won't make it easier for the people to install solar panels unless courts will force them to.

Small solar panel can run small water pump that irrigates small field - it means food for some people for the next 25 years.
If I understand California law....big IF, we are a 'Net Metering State' . This means they are required to 'buy' my power if I have extra. Meter runs both ways and I pay the difference if it is a positive number and don't get back a penny if it's negative. Sort'a me giving power away.
The new rat-fink electronic meter does not run backwards. That's why I'm going to call and make a minor stink about installing solar. just stirring the pot, you understand.
Here where I live, 90f+ is a couple weeks a year. 100+ doesn't happen every year. Typical daytime temp is in high 80s for summer months. 95% of the time, it drops below 70f at nite....so I can open windows.
The 'new' electronic meters do not support net metering.

Were I to install solar, SDGE would reinstall an analogue meter until such time as the electronic meter could support net metering.

No a bit of pushback when I asked the questions.....I think that is fair.

I suspect this would also apply to anyone who could permit (get one, that is) one of the Bloom units.