Bloom Energy Expands its Market Footprint with Two New Commercial and Industrial Microgrids

March 21, 2019
Bloom Energy today announced installation of two commercial and industrial microgrid projects, one for Silicon Valley software company Extreme Networks and the second for Pennsylvania manufacturer II-VI.

Bloom Energy today announced installation of two commercial and industrial microgrid projects, one for Silicon Valley software company Extreme Networks and the second for Pennsylvania manufacturer II-VI.

The projects are the latest in a recent succession of microgrids developed by the California fuel cell company — 80 microgrids in all with 65 percent coming in the last couple of years.

The installations reflect Bloom’s approach to microgrids, which is that they supply ‘always on’ power; they are not mere backup systems.

“We’ve essentially flipped the energy paradigm in the sense that we are the primary power provider, and the grid is actually the backup,” said Asim Hussain, Bloom’s vice president for commercial strategy and customer experience, in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.

Extreme decided to install the microgrid after its San Jose corporate headquarters experienced three outages in the summer of 2018. The system serves critical engineering and information technology — assuring that the facility has electricity even if the grid fails.

“The DC power is going to a set of dedicated microgrid inverters in our system, and those microgrid inverters, their only job is to serve the critical load at the facility. They are the primary power provider to that critical load,” Hussain said.

Save money, reduce emissions, conserve water

The commercial and industrial microgrid, a megawatt-scale project, also offers opportunity for Extreme to save money, reduce emissions and conserve water.

  • Extreme estimates the energy spend for its headquarters will drop by as much as 25 percent. (Bloom says that additional cost savings are possible if Extreme expands the technology to its other sites in the U.S. and around the world.)
  • The system virtually eliminates particulate emissions because it uses an electrochemical reaction — rather than combustion — to convert natural gas or biogas into electricity. The fuel cells reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent as compared to grid power, according to Bloom.
  • The fuel cell uses virtually no water in normal operation. In contrast, combustion-based grid power draws about 156 million gallons of water to produce one megawatt per hour for a year.

“It’s also UPS [uninterruptible power supply] grade power quality, which has also become a critical differentiator. It’s not just about the fact that you have power, it’s about having power that’s of quality,” said Hussain.

The Extreme project reflects a growing adoption of microgrids among Silicon Valley companies, among them JSR Micro and a partnership of VMware and the city of Palo Alto.

“The future of resilient connectivity depends on power system innovation. In the same way businesses rely on networking technology to sustain productivity, network uptime depends on the stability of its power source,” said Ed Meyercord, president and CEO of Extreme Networks.

California businesses and communities also are increasingly eyeing microgrids as a way to keep electricity flowing when wildfires destroy transmission lines.

Manufacturer needs more power

Pennsylvania manufacturer II‐VI decided to install a 2.5 MW microgrid at its New Jersey manufacturing facility for a very different reason. As its business expanded, it was unable to secure additional power quickly enough from its local utility.

II-VI produces application-specific photonic and electronic materials and components. The company found its electrical demand growing as it ramped up production over the past year of its 3D sensing technology.

The commercial and industrial microgrid both accommodates the growth and greens II-VI’s energy supply.

“We faced two significant challenges bringing production levels up at our Warren facility. First, we needed a solution that would deliver power in months not years. Second, we wanted to decrease our overall carbon footprint,” said Giovanni Barbarossa, chief technology officer and president Laser Solutions, II-VI.

By using Bloom Energy Servers as its primary source of power, II-VI is reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 15 million pounds per year compared with the electricity supplied by the New Jersey grid. About 50 percent of the power generated from the New Jersey grid comes from combusting fossil fuels, and the state ranks in the bottom 25 states for air quality.

Quick microgrid install

While II-VI did not reveal project financials, Bloom said the microgrid provides power at a rate competitive with the New Jersey grid.

The new microgrid also offers II-VI increased energy security because it uses natural gas supplied by underground lines, which are not vulnerable to severe weather. 

“We faced two significant challenges bringing production levels up at our Warren facility. First, we needed a solution that would deliver power in months not years. Second, we wanted to decrease our overall carbon footprint,” said Giovanni Barbarossa, chief technology officer and president Laser Solutions, II-VI.

Bloom Energy said that it was able to get the commercial and industrial microgrid up and running within nine months.

“It was very, very fast and that enabled them to sustain manufacturing operations and bring manufacturing operations online per their schedule,” said Hussain.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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