Corporate America is embracing fuel cells—large stationary applications that generate low-cost, clean electricity, and sometimes have side benefits.
As an example, Danbury, Connecticut’s FuelCell Energy, a big player in the space, just announced it is supplying a 5.6-megawatt unit at the large biopharmaceutical company Pfizer’s research and development center in Groton, Connecticut. In addition to electricity at around three to four cents per kilowatt-hour that will undercut the high state rates, it will supply a useful byproduct—steam. It’s a combined heat and power (CHP) installation that will supplement the grid during normal operating hours, and replace it during power outages.
Other purchasers of FuelCell Energy power plants include Campbell’s Soup for its bakery products company Pepperidge Farm. The 1.2-megawatt unit, the second at the Bloomfield, Connecticut plant, is the largest source of power for the bakery, and provides 57 percent of its electricity needs.
Apple’s new corporate campus, known as the Spaceship, is using four megawatts of fuel cell power from Bloom Energy. Apple also installed Bloom fuel cells at a North Carolina data center. The Spaceship cells are part of an Apple microgrid that also includes solar panels and battery backup. The company recently created a subsidiary called Apple Energy that is championing renewable energy and zero-emission power.
Bloom fuel cells are a hit with big companies. Another recent purchaser is CenturyLink, the third-largest telecomm company in the U.S. It’s installing a 500-kilowatt “mission critical” fuel cell at its Irvine, California collocation and cloud service data center.
Other Bloom clients include these powerhouses: FedEx, Stop and Shop, Macy’s, Morgan Stanley, eBay, AT&T, Google, NASA, Verizon, Ikea, WalMart, Staples and Coca-Cola. One reason these companies like fuel-cell energy is that it gives a cleaner picture for their power-hungry data centers. And when used as backup, fuel cells ensure there’s no service interruption.
Another reason companies like fuel cells is the subsidies that often come with them. The Pepperidge Farm installation was supported by a $3.5 million grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (now called Connecticut Green Bank).
Fuel cell companies are also rewarded with generous subsidies. According to the Hartford Courant, FuelCell Energy is expanding its Connecticut factory with the assistance of both $20 million in low-interest loans and $10 million in state tax credits. The expansion creates at least 165 new jobs, the paper reported.
FedEx installed its Bloom 500-kilowatt plant at its Oakland, California logistics operation in 2010, with a 2015 expected date for return on investment. Carbon dioxide emissions are cut 35 percent. Google’s installation, 400 kilowatts, is at its Mountain View, California headquarters and reported 98 percent availability (with 3.8 million kilowatt-hours delivered) in its first 18 months of operation (starting in 2008).
AT&T has collaborated with Bloom on fuel cells for 34 sites in California, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Now there’s a satisfied customer.