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Bloom Energy to power Apple's fuel cell farm in N.C.

post #1 of 15
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A filing with North Carolina's Utilities Commission reveals that Apple's 4.8-megawatt fuel cell farm at its North Carolina data center will use Bloom Energy's "Bloom Energy Servers," and is set to be the largest of its kind outside of electric company installations.

According to the project's filing, the fuel cells will be installed within the year and will join the solar farm in the same complex that powers the company's Maiden, N.C. data center, the home of iCloud and the Siri voice assistant., reports Greensboro newspaper the News & Record.

The news confirms previous rumors that the Cupertino, Calif., company would adding a hydrogen-based energy solution to its existing 20-megawatt solar farm project, which itself is the largest private solar array in the country.

"That's a huge vote of confidence in fuel cells," said James Warner, policy director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association in Washington.

The filing also names the company supplying Apple's fuel cells as Bloom Energy, the only firm capable of filling an order of such magnitude. The clean energy solutions company already has Bloom Energy Servers on Apple's Cupertino campus.

The Maiden installation will consist of 24 Bloom units that will extract hydrogen from an undisclosed amount of natural gas provided by Piedmont Natural Gas. In order to be considered a renewable facility, Apple or Bloom will have to produce biogas of its own to offset the natural gas usage, though a provider has yet to be announced.


Apple's project would be ten times larger than Bank of America's 500 kWBloom installation in Southern California. | Source: Bloom


A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the cost of using fuel cells comes to about $6.7 million per megawatt, making it one of the most expensive forms of energy production available. This means that Apple's project will cost the company approximately $30 million.

The federal government offers a 30 percent tax break for fuel cell use, though North Carolina currently has no incentives in place for the technology. There is a possibility, however, that Apple may sell some of the electricity it produces to Duke University, which is required by state law to buy power generated from renewable resources. Any deals between Duke and Apple will be done outside the purview of governmental agencies.

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post #2 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the cost of using fuel cells comes to about $6.7 million per megawatt, making it one of the most expensive forms of energy production available. This means that Apple's project will cost the company approximately $30 million.

The federal government offers a 30 percent tax break for fuel cell use, though North Carolina currently has no incentives in place for the technology. There is a possibility, however, that Apple may some of the electricity it produces to Duke University, which is required by state law to buy power generated from renewable resources. Any deals between Duke and Apple will be done outside the purview of governmental agencies.

Help me to understand.

Fuel cells turn natural gas into electricity, but cost a lot more than traditional turbines per unit of output. So they are neither cheap nor "renewable" energy.

Duke is required to buy power from renewable sources, so how can it buy power produced by fuel cells?


Do fuel cells produce less pollutants than traditional turbine units per mWh? Why else would anybody want to use fuel cells?
post #3 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

The federal government offers a 30 percent tax break for fuel cell use, though North Carolina currently has no incentives in place for the technology. There is a possibility, however, that Apple may [sell] some of the electricity it produces to Duke University, which is required by state law to buy power generated from renewable resources. Any deals between Duke and Apple will be done outside the purview of governmental agencies.

I think the state law regarding a percentage of renewable and lowering of carbon footprint is to be implemented over a period of 40 years.

This is a sustainability statement from the University:

http://sustainability.duke.edu/campu...utilities.html

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post #4 of 15
I do know something about this.

Fuel cells produce essentially no particulate pollution whereas gas turbines do produce some (although gas turbines are far cleaner today than they were in the past). In terms of social costs, even though it is more efficient to locate gas turbine generators near their point of use, thus saving the electrical losses due to transportation and transformation, the location of pollution sources in populated areas negates this benefit. By not producing human-hasardous emissions, using fuel cells restores it. Fuel cells also tend to be more efficient than gas turbines, saving greenhouse emissions and theoretically operating at a lower cost. So it's a win all around.

BUT...

I've been following Bloom Energy and their technology for a few years now. I really want to believe that they've come up with an amazing breakthrough that makes fuel cells practical and affordable. In the absence of any concrete information to the contrary from the company, I've concluded that their energy servers are merely a somewhat more elegant fuel cell than is otherwise available that is heavily subsidized by investor dollars and is being installed for high profile customers (such as Google and Apple) in order to attract more of those investor dollars.

A practical fuel cell would be of tremendous benefit to mankind in general and the information economy in particular since it demands so much electricity in highly populated areas. I'd love to be wrong about Bloom energy but I see them as diverting resources that should be used to develop such a fuel cell towards the illusion of such development.

Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

Help me to understand.

Fuel cells turn natural gas into electricity, but cost a lot more than traditional turbines per unit of output. So they are neither cheap nor "renewable" energy.

Duke is required to buy power from renewable sources, so how can it buy power produced by fuel cells?


Do fuel cells produce less pollutants than traditional turbine units per mWh? Why else would anybody want to use fuel cells?
post #5 of 15
I do hope these fuel cells and other microturbine systems become practical for home use in a reasonable time frame. I'd like to see the public utilities disappear in favor of more reliable and cheaper home or neighborhood-scale power production in my lifetime.

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post #6 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

Help me to understand.

Fuel cells turn natural gas into electricity, but cost a lot more than traditional turbines per unit of output. So they are neither cheap nor "renewable" energy.

Duke is required to buy power from renewable sources, so how can it buy power produced by fuel cells?


Do fuel cells produce less pollutants than traditional turbine units per mWh? Why else would anybody want to use fuel cells?

I believe fuel cells release oxygen and water as bi-products. There are probably benefits to using fuel cells over other renewable energy if you don't want to store the energy in batteries since solar and wind can't provide a constant output all the time. They would need to produce bio-gas to make it renewable, however natural gas is not so bad for the environment-especially when used in a fuel cell. I read that it is expected that these fuel cells may get rural customers off the grid saving significant amounts of money in infrastructure. As costs go down, that is the big area for fuel cells.
post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

I do hope these fuel cells and other microturbine systems become practical for home use in a reasonable time frame. I'd like to see the public utilities disappear in favor of more reliable and cheaper home or neighborhood-scale power production in my lifetime.

With utility companies paying their CEOs millions of dollars (local utility pays their CEO 12 million a year, 2.5% of the utilities income before profits) a year for what is essentially a monopoly, I think so too. They will probably always be pretty expensive, but I understand they are supposed to last a really long time. People may need to get accustomed to taking out a mortgage for their power plant. I see this happening in rural areas first where there may be government loans or subsidies to help get people off the grid. There are certain customers that are much more expensive to service. It makes the most sense for those people to get off the grid first so we don't need to continue subsidizing their infrastructure. I guess we need a government with fewer extremists before any of this is likely to happen.
post #8 of 15
As I wrote to Tim Cook on why I won't be buying any Apple products...

I - Their supply chain labor exploitation needs to end...
a) Even the latest investigation & commitments to fix exploitations
fail to address key worker rights.
b) Many jobs must be returned to the US.
c) Their valuation & cash on hand are obscene, given a) & b).

II - Their Maiden, NC plant is not environmentally respectable...
a) They consumed 100 acres of forest to use inexpensive land.
b) There are hundreds of 'brown-field' sites available.
c) Their solar 'farm' cleared about 50 acres of forest.
d) They could have instead encouraged/underwritten local solar.
e) The use of Bloom means they need gas piped in.
f) Bloom is at best 50% efficient, so their emissions equal
any gas power plant's -- 55% of a coal plant's.

In the future, it will be a poster child for phony environmentalism by a company that clearly thinks first about its bottom line, not the environment. .
--
Dr. A. Cannara
Menlo Park, Calif.
650-400-3071 (Tim, feel free to call me)
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by esummers View Post

I believe fuel cells release oxygen and water as bi-products. There are probably benefits to using fuel cells over other renewable energy if you don't want to store the energy in batteries since solar and wind can't provide a constant output all the time. They would need to produce bio-gas to make it renewable, however natural gas is not so bad for the environment–-especially when used in a fuel cell. I read that it is expected that these fuel cells may get rural customers off the grid saving significant amounts of money in infrastructure. As costs go down, that is the big area for fuel cells.

You're exactly right. I think it's Apple's attempt at trying to solve the intermittancy issue from wanting to use solar. (Storage technologies, as they currently exist, are very rudimentary.)

The investment required for this is probably a blip relative to Apple's current cash flow generation ability. If a company that has tens of billions in cash, like Apple does, will not experiment with this type of cutting-edge stuff, who will?

As a shareholder, I more than happy to have Apple push the envelope by spending a little bit of its money on things like this, at the margin. You never know where it might lead.
post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrAlexC View Post

As I wrote to Tim Cook on why I won't be buying any Apple products...

I - Their supply chain labor exploitation needs to end...
a) Even the latest investigation & commitments to fix exploitations
fail to address key worker rights.
b) Many jobs must be returned to the US.
c) Their valuation & cash on hand are obscene, given a) & b).

II - Their Maiden, NC plant is not environmentally respectable...
a) They consumed 100 acres of forest to use inexpensive land.
b) There are hundreds of 'brown-field' sites available.
c) Their solar 'farm' cleared about 50 acres of forest.
d) They could have instead encouraged/underwritten local solar.
e) The use of Bloom means they need gas piped in.
f) Bloom is at best 50% efficient, so their emissions equal
any gas power plant's -- 55% of a coal plant's.

In the future, it will be a poster child for phony environmentalism by a company that clearly thinks first about its bottom line, not the environment. .
--
Dr. A. Cannara
Menlo Park, Calif.
650-400-3071 (Tim, feel free to call me)

You'll be waiting by your phone, sitting on your naive and uninformed high horse, for a very long time.

PS: The 'naive' part of my comment refers solely to your providing your phone number in a public forum like this.
post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrAlexC View Post

As I wrote to Tim Cook on why I won't be buying any Apple products...

I - Their supply chain labor exploitation needs to end...
a) Even the latest investigation & commitments to fix exploitations
fail to address key worker rights.
b) Many jobs must be returned to the US.
c) Their valuation & cash on hand are obscene, given a) & b).

II - Their Maiden, NC plant is not environmentally respectable...
a) They consumed 100 acres of forest to use inexpensive land.
b) There are hundreds of 'brown-field' sites available.
c) Their solar 'farm' cleared about 50 acres of forest.
d) They could have instead encouraged/underwritten local solar.
e) The use of Bloom means they need gas piped in.
f) Bloom is at best 50% efficient, so their emissions equal
any gas power plant's -- 55% of a coal plant's.

In the future, it will be a poster child for phony environmentalism by a company that clearly thinks first about its bottom line, not the environment. .

I think a mod needs to do some judicious editing here...

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

Reply

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by esummers View Post

...It makes the most sense for those people to get off the grid first so we don't need to continue subsidizing their infrastructure. I guess we need a government with fewer extremists before any of this is likely to happen.

Slightly off topic for a second, but I think we're in for a long stretch of extremism in the US thanks to the unavoidable economic trough we will be stuck in for the next 15 to 20 years. Massive, un-repayable debt can do that to a country.

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

Reply

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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post #13 of 15
I wish I could chuck a simple small wind turbine on top of my patio roof and let it generate 1kw per hour:
http://www.solaronline.com.au/air-br...d-turbine.html

Pity only ~200W at this stage for about USD $1,000 or so.
post #14 of 15
Pertinent points. It should be noted that while Apple should be encouraged to do more, they alone cannot be the sharp end of the stick.

What about all the green building certifications and so on? Who else is doing this? There should be more publicity and case studies based on that.

Besides solar, there's some impressive work on wind as well. Small-Urban-Wind+Solar especially to balance day/night and the seasons would be ideal.

Why don't we here more from other tech companies? Let's get everyone on board with this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrAlexC View Post

As I wrote to Tim Cook on why I won't be buying any Apple products...

I - Their supply chain labor exploitation needs to end...
a) Even the latest investigation & commitments to fix exploitations
fail to address key worker rights.
b) Many jobs must be returned to the US.
c) Their valuation & cash on hand are obscene, given a) & b).

II - Their Maiden, NC plant is not environmentally respectable...
a) They consumed 100 acres of forest to use inexpensive land.
b) There are hundreds of 'brown-field' sites available.
c) Their solar 'farm' cleared about 50 acres of forest.
d) They could have instead encouraged/underwritten local solar.
e) The use of Bloom means they need gas piped in.
f) Bloom is at best 50% efficient, so their emissions equal
any gas power plant's -- 55% of a coal plant's.

In the future, it will be a poster child for phony environmentalism by a company that clearly thinks first about its bottom line, not the environment. .
--
Dr. A. Cannara
Menlo Park, Calif.
650-400-3071 (Tim, feel free to call me)
post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrAlexC View Post

As I wrote to Tim Cook on why I won't be buying any Apple products...

I - Their supply chain labor exploitation needs to end...
a) Even the latest investigation & commitments to fix exploitations
fail to address key worker rights.

Don't worry, I won't use my environmentally insensitive cell phone, produced by foreign labor that was surely underpaid and exploited, to give you the pleasure of spewing forth additional poorly substantiated and largely irrelevant guflaw at my expense.

Amazing that you've never posted before, doctor, given your vitriol. You might consider, prior to posting such a comment, that your '61 Austin Healey Sprite, however enjoyable, is not "environmentally responsible".

Good Doctor, if your phone should happen to ring, you might want to send it to voicemail - it's probably hypocrisy calling...
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