eBay Bets on Bloom Energy for Green Data Center

bloom energy supplies fuel cells for ebay data centerWhen it comes to the green data center trend, online giant eBay seems determined to beat out other A-list rivals such as Facebook, Apple and Google. eBay’s flagship data center in Utah will be powered by alternative energy in the form of 30 large-scale fuel cells called Bloom Energy servers, provided by the company Bloom Energy.

Aside from helping eBay to boost its green profile, the new installation could help the state of Utah establish a place for itself in renewable energy leadership. When completed, eBay’s six-megawatt fuel cell installation will be the largest non-utility fuel cell array in the entire country – and to ice the sustainability cake, the fuel cells will be powered with biogas from renewable organic waste sources.

Fuel cells and green branding

The new fuel cells will provide enough power to operate eBay’s data center, though the facility will still maintain a connection to the conventional electricity grid for backup.

According to eBay President and CEO, John Donahoe, the renewable power source goes beyond window dressing to cement eBay’s position as a leader in the next-generation technologies that will drive commercial enterprise into the future:

“Technology-led innovation is changing retail and revolutionizing how people shop and pay. We also want to revolutionize how shopping is powered… Running our data centers primarily on reliable, renewable energy, we intend to shape a future for commerce that is more environmentally sustainable at its core.”

Bloom Energy servers

Conventional power generation relies on combustion, or burning fuel. In contrast, fuel cells like the Bloom Energy servers produce energy through a chemical reaction.

Power to get the reaction going has to come from somewhere, and fuel cells can run on renewable energy as well as conventional sources. In the case of Apple’s new fuel cells for its massive North Carolina data center, at least initially the fuel cell array will run on conventional natural gas, but Apple is already offsetting that use with biogas credits (Apple’s fuel cells are made by Bloom, also).

eBay’s Utah data center

eBay’s new fuel cells are due to be fully operational by around this time next year. The company anticipates that each Bloom Energy server will generate about 1.75 million kilowatt hours annually.

Since the servers are located within the data center compound, power losses due to grid disruptions will be virtually eliminated. In addition, there will be no need for expensive backup generators that require a large investment but are not in use for more than a few days per year.

Green energy reaching millions – like it or not

According to Bloom Energy, its eBay servers will provide the power for millions of transactions by eBay users and other eBay platforms including PayPal and StubHub. Except for those users who are paying attention to eBay’s green public relations pitches, the transition to alternative energy will be virtually seamless and invisible.

In this regard, the new data center also demonstrates how quickly alternative energy is making the transition from a trendy oddity to an inexorable juggernaut of a trend. Because of the Bloom Energy servers, green energy will get a foot into the homes and businesses of tens of millions of eBay users regardless of whether or not they support sustainability policies or subscribe to the most die-hard climate change denialism.

Image: Some rights reserved by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.





Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

2 responses

  1. Does anyone know if eBay’s fuel cells are going to be powered exclusively by biogas from day 1 or, as in the case of Apple, by a mix of natural gas and biogas?  The article was a bit fuzzy on that point, though I did understand that the fuel cells could process either.

    Also, if the power source is biogas, what is the source and how reliable are the raw materials for that source?  For example, are these fuel cells connected to biogas generated from a large landfill?   Or are the raw materials trucked in from remote sources and processed on site in a processing plant?  And, are these materials seasonal in nature or available all year round?

    I’m very confused about how eBay can rely on the traditional grid as a backup source of power if they have had problems with the traditional grid’s reliability.  In other words, if they are going to rely on the traditional grid won’t they then have to also rely on a backup to the traditional grid–like on-site generators?  I don’t think eBay customers and shareholders would be happy with a scenario where the biogas fails (say due to lack of raw materials) and then the traditional grid fails and transactions can’t be processed.

    I’m assuming that eBay believes that this installation will result in a positive ROI for the company and shareholders.  It would be interesting to revisit this initiative in late 2013 or 2014 to see how it is doing and validate the claims being made in the press release.

    And finally, I’ve met very few people for whom energy is as much of a religion as described in the last line of the article.  Most folks I know are very enthusiastic about energy sources that can reduce costs, improve reliability, reduce energy generation footprint and reduce pollution while maintaining our standard of living.  It’s not always clear that the choices are the either-or choice articulated by the author.

  2. FYI 
    Federal Lawsuit Regarding Bloom Energy

    “Buried deep in the permit application, in Table 1 on page 161 of a 163-page application, was the number 884. On that page, under penalty of perjury, Bloom officially told the world that its energy servers emit 884 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

    Also buried on page 161 of the permit application is a Table 2 notation that says these 235 “clean” servers would emit 22.56 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per day. But Delaware, like other states, regulates VOC emissions at far lower levels (Maryland, for instance, regulates boat repair shops that emit more than 15 pounds per day). Moreover, if the same amount of power had been generated by combined cycle gas turbines, only 0.249 pounds of VOCs would be emitted daily. That’s 90 times less pollution!
    To top it off, because of the Bloom servers’ low efficiency and high capital cost, Delaware citizens will pay Bloom over $200 per megawatt hour of power delivered to their electricity transmission grid. But in January 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Agency said the projected “levelized” cost of electricity over the next 30 years from advanced gas-fired combined cycle power stations is $65.50 per MWH.

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