Analysis – Bloom and Fisker two different creatures

It’s easy for some to get Bloom Energy www.bloomenergy.com mixed up with Fisker Automotive www.fiskerautomotive.com

Image courtesy of Bloom Energy

It is true that both California companies are in the alternative energy business , both are seeking deals with government involvement, both are privately held and both are prone to keep information close to the vest. Both also have ties to former Vice President Al Gore and that upsets more than a few people.

Bloom is now expected to have a groundbreaking ceremony late this month on a University of Delaware site that formerly housed the Chrysler assembly plant. Work on converting a former G.M. Plant in Delaware to a Fisker facility is on hold.

The two companies are also expected to be an issue in the fall election, since Gov. Jack Markell has looked to both as a way to stop the bleeding of industrial jobs in the state. In fact, Fisker was cited as an example of what recently announced gubernatorial candidate Jeff Cragg sees as a flawed economic development strategy by Gov. Jack Markell’s administration.

Bloom uses technology developed for the space program to build fuel cell systems that can offer back-up and peak load power for data centers and other corporate facilities.

Fisker has the difficult task of building a car company from the ground up using a technology with more than a few similarities to a diesel locomotive.

The technology involves an internal combustion engine that powers a generator that drives powerful motors and recharges batteries, with the engine having no direct connection to the drive train. For short hauls, the Fisker can run off batteries and switch on to generator power for longer hauls.

Its first effort, the Fisker Karma, is struggling with battery problems and not meeting sales targets. Its next vehicle, The Atlantic which could be built in Delaware, uses second generation batteries that could be far less expensive and have fewer bugs.

There are a lot of big “ifs” here, including whether the vehicle will be assembled  here. Fisker has been successful in raising money from the private market, but it has not reached financial milestones that would allow the U.S. Department of Energy to release loan funds that would clear the way for the Atlantic’s assembly at  the former G.M. Plant west of Wilmington.

Armed with a striking design, the Atlantic may instead be built outside Delaware as the company, like many start-ups, adapts to adversity.

Then we have Bloom, which like Fisker, is known to keep a low profile most of the time.

Bloom is a creature of the Silicon Valley of California, a prime source of funding for the company as well as Fisker, which is actually based in Southern California, a center for worldwide auto design.

Many of the similarities end at this point except when it comes to Al Gore. A couple of conservative groups have been fiercely critical of his ties to Bloom Energy. Those ties also extend to Fisker and have been one of the sources of irritation over the Energy Department loan to the automaker.

Their argument is that Gore is a member of the board of Apple Inc. and has ties to the venture capitalists that have funded Bloom. Those ties also extend to Fisker and critics also point to suspicious actions by Vice President Joe Biden. The whole thing smells of conflict of interest, they contend.

The Bloom fuel cells have also drawn criticism from both the left and right because they need some sort of fossil fuel such as natural gas, methane from a landfill etc. and still represent a high-cost form of energy.

Of late, Greenpeace has demonstrated at a few Apple retail stores in trying to pressure the company to use more green energy. Greenpeace is also skeptical of the use of Bloom equipment, since it typically burns natural gas, but can be converted to other fuels, such as methane from landfills. CLICK HERE for story.

The you know what hit the fan from the right when Apple decided to install both Bloom boxes and solar power at a new data center in North Carolina and one conservative group cried conflict of interest. VIEW THIS PRESS RELEASE .

In reading the release above you might think Bloom is a giant scam. Actually, other large enterprises in the Silicon Valley and elsewhere have been receptive to the technology, perhaps because it provides a clean alternative to the back-up generators that need to in place at data centers. Also, during peak periods, companies can go off the grid to easy supply issues. The Bloom boxes are also able to generate revenue when that power is sent back into the grid.

While Bloom boxes at the Apple site will not be built in Delaware, this project shows the potential of the technology and a Delaware production site. Moreover, Apple is not known as a company that with an appetite for unproven technology.

The news from Apple should also bolster the credibility of the deal that drew Bloom to Delaware with a plant that could add 1,000 jobs. As part of the deal, Bloom installing its fuel cells in New Castle County and feeding power into the grid. j

Delmarva Power customers will see slightly higher bills, as a result and that has some worried that it will drive away business, since Delaware’s rates have moved to the high side.

Still, Bloom Boxes are a way for Delmarva to meet alternative energy standards and when coupled with a production site in the state, many see the pluses far outweighing the minuses. – Doug Rainey

One Comment

  1. Energy Advocate April 26, 2012 Reply

    The Bloom Energy project is a huge waste of money. Delaware could have ten times the amount of energy provided by Bloom’s solid oxide fuel cells, if the same amount of money was allocated for Combined Cycle Natural Gas. Instead of subsidized Bloom jobs, Delaware could then have lower cost electricity to heat homes and provide good paying jobs for everyone. Thanks to ignorant legislators and a self-promoting adminstration, Delaware will be supporting Bloom long after the Markell adminstration is nothing more than a bad memory – unless the courts overturn the legislation. One can only hope.

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