New data gathered by public agencies and a data analysis by NBC Bay Area News reveal that Bloom Energy, which makes the Bloom boxes that supply power and supposedly act as cleaner producers of energy, may be hoodwinking the public with its overestimates of the green-efficiency of its product.
Bloom boxes, which cost $800,000, have been installed at major corporations nationwide that hope to decrease their carbon footprints, including Coca Cola, Walmart, and Google.
California’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which originated 14 years ago, gleans funds from portions of Pacific Gas & Electric customer’s bills. To incentivize companies to “think green,” the state offers rebates.
As NBC Bay Area reports, when customers buy Bloom Boxes, they receive a rebate. Bloom Energy has received more money than any other company in these rebates: $230 million, 23.6% of the rebates, even though the company has only participated in SGIP since 2007. Bloom has also received over $150 million in federal funds in the last two years.
Lindsay Leveen, a former Genentech scientist, has been a thorn in the side of Bloom Energy. He noticed the 60 Minutes interview in 2010 with Bloom and thought something was amiss. He remembers, “I watched the launch on 60 Minutes and it just made me think, wow these guys are claiming a lot.”
Leveen suspects that the public is being “greenwashed,” a term meaning that a company sells its product as more environmentally friendly than it is. He wrote in 2012 that Bloom was taking advantage of the state of Delaware, referring to a lawsuit that was filed against the fuel maker alleging cronyism and preferential treatment from the state’s government. Leveen detailed how the Bloom boxes were “less efficient, more expensive, and dirtier than that produced by conventional alternatives.”
Leveen noted that former vice-president Al Gore had connections to Bloom, as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He added that in Bloom’s permit application, the company admitted that its boxes emitted 884 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, and thus 45.2% efficient compared to the full heating value of natural gas. That left 54.8% of the natural gas energy wasted, short of the “over 60% in efficiency” figure that a Bloom marketing director told a NASDAQ reporter. Bloom executives claimed that the boxes yielded high efficiency ratings, which was dubious.
Leveen also pointed out that the 235 boxes installed in Delaware generated 47 megawatts of affordable electricity, but their cost matched the price for one 350-MW combined cycle natural gas generator, which would be 53.3% efficient, 8% higher than the Bloom boxes. Thus the 350-MW would be eight times cheaper than the Bloom boxes.
Another vital piece of data Leveen found was the admission from Bloom that the 235 “clean” servers would emit 22.56 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per day, far over Delaware’s regulated level. He added that if the state used combined cycle gas turbines, only 0.249 pounds of VOCs would be emitted daily – 90 times less pollution.
Leveen is still jaundiced about Bloom, saying, “I like the word boondoggle. You add an ‘l’ and ‘m’ and you have bloomdoggle.”