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Bloom Energy May Transform Data Center Power As We Know It

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Bloom Energy Transforming Data Center Power

Data center power has always been, and likely will always be, a hot topic.  Data centers are some of the biggest power consumers in the world….including entire countries!  True leaders and forward thinkers in the data center industry are looking for high-quality, reliable, and sustainable energy-efficient sources of power to power their data centers now and in the future.  The problem with implementing anything that is new or innovative is that it involves risk.  Risk that the power source will not be consistent and reliable, risk that it will not actually be energy efficient which would diminish the value of the investment, or risk that it will fail altogether, leaving sensitive data potentially exposed to threat.  But, the upside of the risk is that many of the new power technologies have been heavily tested for quality and reliability, reducing the risk exposure while maximizing the upside of the benefits.  

Bloom Energy

One such technology is not only making waves in the data center industry (as well as the power technology industry as a whole), it holds tremendous potential to transform the way data centers use and consume power in the future.  Bloom Energy fuel cells, which were first invented in 2001, are a technology that has been carefully honed over time, are a power source that can generate energy in a far more clean way that is also energy efficient and ultimately cost-saving for data centers.

How Does Bloom Energy Work?

Bloom Energy’s fuel cells are being deployed in data centers around the world to maximize energy efficiency while diminishing the negative effects such as carbon monoxide emissions.  Bloom Energy elaborates on how their technology works, “The Bloom Energy Server converts fuel into electricity without combustion, using solid oxide fuel cell technology. The system generates electricity significantly more efficiently than a conventional power plant. It also generates cleaner electricity, with 50% less CO2 emissions than the average of the U.S. power generation portfolio. When configured to provide uninterruptible power, Bloom Energy Servers can also provide primary power for data centers with up to the equivalent of Uptime Institute Tier IV availability and reliability without reliance on traditional back up or power conditioning equipment.”

Why Bloom Energy Fuel Cells for Data Centers?

Bloom Energy fuel cells are so popular that they are being deployed in data centers around the world – including data centers from some of the largest players in the space, like Apple and eBay (as well as MANY other major companies with large data centers).  Until now, we have focused our discussion primarily on energy efficiency and, while that is incredibly important, one other incredibly high priority for any data center of any size is power reliability.  

Maximum uptime is the goal of any data center and yet, despite so much effort to diminish downtime, we still see that a tremendous amount of data centers are still struggling with downtime and outages.  Fascinatingly, and perhaps frighteningly, the statistics show we are moving in the wrong direction.  In fact, Uptime Institute’s 2018 report notes that roughly 1/3 of data centers had an outage in the last year (this is an increase from the previous year which was 25%). And, while this is concerning, the more concerning note is that 80% of data center managers noted that their most recent outage was PREVENTABLE.  If so many of these outages are preventable, why aren’t they being prevented?  Where is the breakdown occurring and how can it be addressed in a practical and achievable way? Bloom Energy believes their fuel cells may be the answer.  

Bloom Energy

Bloom Energy explains how their technology works in data centers to maintain and maximize uptime while improving energy efficiency in a sustainable and scalable way, “Bloom Energy provides an advanced distributed electric power generation solution based on our proprietary solid oxide fuel cell technology. We provide customers with a reliable, resilient, sustainable and more cost effective clean alternative to the electric grid. Our solution, the Bloom Energy Server, is an on-site stationary power generation platform, capable of delivering uninterrupted, 24×7 base load power that is fault tolerant, resilient and clean. By generating power on-site, at the point of consumption, rather than centrally, Bloom Energy Servers help customers eliminate the cost, complexity, interdependencies, and inefficiencies associated with electrical transmission and distribution.”

How Bloom Energy Fuel Cells Could Transform DCIM

If you look at the case of eBay and their deployment of Bloom Energy fuel cells, you will see a very unique data center power strategy.  Almost every data center in existence has (hopefully) some sort of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and/or generator to supply backup power in the event of an outage.  This is a standard power redundancy to protect against downtime.  When eBay built their data center with Bloom Energy fuel cells, they no longer needed to install a UPS system or generator, nor did they need UPS batteries or maintenance.  That is not just a bold step for any data center to take, it will provide a significant cost-savings for any data center.  And, they have found that their Bloom Energy fuel cell system is far more efficient and reliable than alternatives.  If more data centers were to implement the use of Bloom Energy fuel cells, we could see a total shift in the data center power industry which will make a big impact on DCIM as well.

Do Bloom Energy Fuel Cell’s Offer Enough Benefits to Make It Worth It?

Any seasoned data center professional would acknowledge that energy efficiency is great but it has to have enough benefits to make switching over existing infrastructure worth it.  Any time you are adopting new technology you can assume there will be a big upfront investment, and that is certainly true with Bloom’s fuel cells.  But, what outweighs the costs is that Bloom Energy fuel cells have a number of mission critical benefits including extended outage protection, elimination of surges and sags in power, highly modular and scalable design, around the clock uninterruptible power, fault tolerant, and much more.  Data Center Knowledge notes that Bloom Energy fuel cells have a variety of exciting features that would incentivize most data centers, “Low cost of natural gas, combined with the ability to bypass the costs of buying and operating UPS gear and generators, plus a variety of tax incentives, often make Bloom a lower-cost alternative to utility power for data center operators. There are many more factors that ultimately decide whether the solution makes sense for a customer (as we discuss on the podcast in detail). For some of them (Apple for example), the sustainability factor plays a big role. The fuel cells emit much less CO2 per kilowatt-hour generated than does an average power plant and being able to use biogas instead of fossil fuels also makes a big difference.”

Whether you are building a new data center or retrofitting a legacy data center, you will undoubtedly spend time considering the most effective power supply options.  While there is a higher initial cost when installing a Bloom Energy fuel cell system than some other power supply options, there are a number of advantages to be considered.  Many of these advantages may outweigh the higher initial investment and incentivize data center managers to implement the use of fuel cells for a sustainable, effective, and efficient power supply option.



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