Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy and Southern Company microgrid subsidiary PowerSecure have announced a 37 MW fuel cell deal with data center company Equinix.
It is the biggest deal for the partnership since they came together with the aim of bringing 50 MW of fuel cells to market through upfront financing and power-purchase agreements.à‚
Over the next two years, the partners will install Bloom’s solid-oxide, natural-gas-fuelled “energy servers” at 12 Equinix data centers in California and New York, with the goal of reducing the company’s carbon footprint, offering it more control over its energy supply, and keeping its electricity bills at or lower their current rates via 15-year power purchase agreements.à‚
There are about 235 MW of large-scale stationary fuel cells operating in the US as of mid-2016, most of them in California,à‚ according to a November reportà‚ from the Department of Energy. But the largest single projects to date are in Connecticut, with nearly 15 MW from FuelCell Energy, and in Delaware, where Bloom set the previous record with a 30-MW deployment with Delmarva Power to deploy its fuel cells at utility substations.
This week’s deal will put Bloom’s “energy servers” — self-contained fuel cells, inverters and control systems — behind the meter at Equinix data centers, where they will provide a portion of each site’s electricity around the clock. The units will be located at seven Equinix data centers in the Silicon Valley, three in the New York area, and two in the Los Angeles area, with the largest single site at 5.2 MW.à‚
The Equinix deal represents the first big project under the PowerSecure partnership, which is aimed at giving its corporate parent, Southeastern utility Southern Company, an entree into the world of owning distributed energy assets.à‚
“The most exciting aspect of this structure is that it allows each party to focus on its core competency,” Asim Hussain, Bloom’s VP of marketing, said in an interview this week. Equinix “wants to operate the most efficient and reliable data centers in the world. We’re providing for that with clean, high-quality electricityà¢€¦and the financing is coming from one of the largest utilities in the country. That’s what really allows distributed energy to scale.”
Since 2015, Equinix has been testing a 1-megawatt installation from Bloom one of its San Jose data centers, and “it’s exceeded its business case from an efficiency standpoint and a financial standpoint,” according David Rinard, senior director of global sustainability and strategic sourcing.
Based on that experience, “We took a look around the country to see where else it made sense to expand,” he said. Equinix looked for a combination of sites where the fuel cell’s cost of energy aligned with grid power prices, and where local or state air quality regulations barred natural-gas turbines or other combustion-based forms of distributed generation, he said
Bloom’s fuel cells still consume natural gas and emit carbon dioxide, making them far from a renewable or carbon-neutral energy source. But according to the partners, the 37 megawatts to be deployed will provide power that is 20 percent to 45 percent less carbon-intensive than the equivalent grid-supplied power.
The fuel cell units met Equinix’s strict requirements for power reliability, a critical issue for a company that hosts massive amounts of internet traffic from data centers around the world.à‚