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He thought the technology was so good he moved from a high profile position at HP Technology Services. Now Peter Gross is hoping to spread Bloom Energy’s unique data center power idea around the world
16 March 2012 by Penny Jones - DatacenterDynamics
Fuel cell technology company Bloom Energy is making a concerted push into the data center market, hiring one of the industry’s big guns to lead a new mission critical arm to push a new product designed specifically for the market.
Two days after we blogged about rumours circulating that Bloom, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups, could be providing Apple with fuel cells for its newest data center in Maiden, North Carolina, Bloom Energy announced Peter Gross, cofounder and CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, was coming on board.
Gross moved to Bloom Energy from a role with HP Technology Consulting where he was Vice President and Managing Partner. He will now lead Bloom Energy’s Mission Critical Practice in a role he says has the potential to change the face of the data center industry.
“I have known KR (Sridhar – the founder of Bloom Energy) for about 15 years and have followed the company’s progress and solution closely,” Gross said.
“I always felt that Bloom had the ability to become a really transformational component of the data center. I tried to do a project involving Bloom for a number of years but did not have the opportunity, then I finally decided I wanted to take this to the next step and joined the company.”
Gross said this involves using Bloom’s fuel cells as a direct energy source for the data center, removing reliance on the utility grid. Bloom’s solution uses a powdered sand formed into solid ceramic squares and technology developed by the semiconductor industry to produce an electrochemical reaction for a clean power source.
Bloom for the data center
According to Gross, the most recent incarnation of Bloom Energy’s fuel cell box exceeds 60% efficiency, making it the most advanced fuel cell on the market, and by having boxes situated on site data center operators will also see reductions in losses through transmission and distribution.
“This is a fundamental shift where the power is not delivered to the grid . . . in this case Bloom will become the primary source of power, while the utility will be used as a secondary or alternative source of power,” Gross said.
“We are creating a whole new [energy] architecture where we have two independent sources – the grid and potentially the natural gas network (or natural gas produced on site). By doing this we improve the reliability and reduce significantly the carbon footprint of the data center.”
A Bloom Energy box installed for commercial use by Caltex
Gross said the systems will provide the biggest returns on cost in places where electricity prices are skyrocketing and gas prices are low, or sources of natural gas are readily available. “Right now the cost of natural gas in the US is at an all-time low because the US has been able to dramatically boost its production of natural gas, and obviously that has an impact,” Gross said.
But like most solutions, the return on investment will differ depending on site location and the original set up of the data center. The system can benefit both existing and new build greenfield data center sites. “There is also a great benefit for retrofits, primarily facilities that are in cities where the utility cannot bring additional power to the facility for whatever reason,” Gross said.
Only an incident such as an earthquake, according to Gross, could bring the system unstuck.”Bloom Energy’s reliability comes from the fact that now you have a natural gas on hand, and the likelihood of both (onsite natural gas and the utility grid) going down simultaneously is extremely low. Probably a major earthquake could do that,” Gross said.
He said about five Bloom Energy boxes could provide for about 1MW of power on site, and while the boxes themselves are relatively heavy, most will be installed in places that won’t have an effect on data center space. “It does not require special indoor space, or air conditioning. You install it outside and forget about it,” Gross said. This is in comparison to the size and performance of generators – which are supposed to only operate a few hours a year.
Bloom Energy's fuel cells in production
According to Gross, most projects will be catered for within an average of nine months from start to finish. “The whole thing is built in the factory, tested, commissioned, dropped in place, and the connections to the existing electrical distribution solution are made from there before it is ready to go,” Gross said.
As for who is using these solutions – Bloom Energy already has numerous boxes in use at commercial premises with big-name clients including eBay, FedEx, Walmart and Coca-Cola. Gross said he expects to name a data center client “soon”. As for Apple: “No comment” was the response provided to DatacenterDynamics.