Bloom Energy’s remarkable fuel cell energy server, the so called “Bloom Box“, has garnered more interest than almost anything else we’ve written about in months. By the sheer volume of traffic to this site you’d think the holy grail itself had been found. The bloom box does seem to hold a legitimate promise to improve the efficiency and ease of electricity generation and just might be a little bit greener. It still produces emissions, though very few people are talking about that. It seems, as we suggested last week, that the biggest efficiencies the bloom box provides will come from the elimination of transmission costs – bringing more electricity to the end user without losing it along the powerlines and other bottlenecks that usually get in the way.
There are dozens of other companies, however, who are working on similar fuel cell technologies. Some critics even pointed out that even Bloom’s proprietary technology is hardly unique. Sam Jaffe points out four more potential pitfalls with the product: That it may in fact be less efficient, more expensive, and even dirtier than competing forms of electricity generation – all while missing some of the technology’s biggest advantages (generating heat,and energy storage).
But that hasn’t dampened what has to the biggest cleantech PR coup of the year so far. Kudos go out to Outcast Communications who orchestrated Bloom’s public relations explosion of the past week – a perfect storm of mystery, hype, and not too shabby follow through by all involved. Despite the legitimate questions above, the cleantech world and the public at large remain captivated by the gee-whiz possibilities of fuel cells and the Jetson’s-like fantasy of limitless, magical power.
Indeed, by giving a company or a home complete control of their electricity generation, in a relatively green way (after all, end users could still supplement the bloom box with wind or solar), there’s a secondary appeal that emerges beyond price – independence. In terms of the general public, I think it’s this “off the grid” mentality that’s really driving enthusiasm, and which played so perfectly into the product’s launch hype. Generating electricity off the grid may ultimately be more efficient, but it’s also potentially safer – think about the east coast black-out a few years back. Especially in the United States, the quest for independence (whether fantasy or real) remains a bigger psychological driver than limiting one’s carbon footprint.
Whether or not Bloom can live up to the hype that’s been built remains to be seen, but even if they don’t, the excitement that’s been generated around fuel cells and even the criticism that’s been levied are proof of the public’s thirst for something new. People are very much ready for new energy technology, for greater efficiency, and for a greater feeling of independence – whether they’re particularly ‘green minded’ or not.
The ball is now in Bloom’s court, but many other entrepreneurs and individuals will be riding the wave of interest that’s been set in motion by their launch. Some may fail, some may find things even Bloom hadn’t considered. There might be a lot of hype right now, but even hype can produce action, investment, and hope for change. Personally, I’m excited to see Bloom keep growing, to keep hearing tales from Google, eBay and others who’ve tried out their technology, and to keep covering other companies who’ll be jumping in to fill the gaps.
This is going to be a fun ride…