It’s All About the Power: ESG-Focused Energy

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On this episode, Raymond chats with the Vice President of Global Data Center Sales with Bloom Energy, Jeff Barber, about the energy crisis, ESG energy, and Bloom Energy.

The phrase “energy crisis” has been tossed around frequently the past few years, and not without reason: as demand for fossil fuels skyrockets, climate change speeds up too. So while the U.S. puts legislation into place to help mitigate the climate crisis, there’s another problem in the process – our energy grid might not be able to keep up with these environmentally friendly power alternatives. What happens now? How do we move towards ESG energy?

On the latest episode of Not Your Father’s Data Center Podcast, CRO and host Raymond Hawkins chats with the Vice President of Global Data Center Sales with Bloom Energy, Jeff Barber, about the energy crisis, ESG energy, and Bloom Energy.

The two discuss:

  1. Why reducing your carbon footprint now adds time-value
  2. How Bloom Energy offers an alternative that lasts into the future
  3. What Bloom Energy is, how it generates power, and what their power-purchase agreement looks like

“So, Bloom energy is solid-oxide fuel cells that are on-site, at your facility, in a micro-grid form. So this is power-generation at your facility, without the centralized grid, with the centralized grid…Bloom is intended to create energy for the facility, to be the primary energy to that facility, 24/7 365,” explained Barber, noting that these are not batteries.

A California native, Barber has collected over 25 years of experience in the energy, sales, and data center industries. Though he first started working on network troubleshooting through the G-Tech Corporation as a Network Support and DEC VAX System Administrator, Barber has since held leadership positions at a number of globally recognized brands, including Hewlett-Packard, the EMC Corporation, and Oracle.  Prior to joining Bloom, Barber was a Partner & EVP Sales and Business Development leader for Prime Data Centers. He is a graduate of California State University at Sacramento, with a BS in Business Administration.

Read the full transcript below:

Raymond Hawkins: Welcome to another edition of Not Your Father’s Data Centre. I’m Raymond Hawkins, your host. Today we are joined by the vice president of Global Data Centres of Bloom Energy, my friend, Jeff Barber. Jeff, how you doing, bud? Good to see you.

Jeff Barber: I’m good. Good to see you too.

Raymond Hawkins: I hear energy’s a problem, right?

Jeff Barber: Energy’s a problem but first, I’d like to address the extreme cruelty of a 6:30 start.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, that’s fair. I know we need to get that out. We are recording early in the morning.

Jeff Barber: We are recording early. Yes. Energy, especially in our world, right?

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah.

Jeff Barber: Data centres consume a massive amount of power, as we all know. ESG, the environment is an absolutely critical point.

What Bloom Energy does, it fits perfectly. It’s a perfect storm for the company. We’ll go into that a little bit.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, great timing for you guys with what our industry is facing and what our planet is facing. A couple of things, before we get too far down the path on what we do together professionally, I’d love to have folks understand you a little bit.

Where’d you grow up? Where’s home? Where do you live? How did you get to Bloom? Give us a little bit of your background first.

Jeff Barber: Sure, sure. I’m a California boy, born and bred. Little bit of a circuitous route to data centres. I actually started my career in technology working for the California State Lottery on mainframes, believe it or not. I started my career living in the data centre in a very cold room.

This is well before hot aisle containment or anything like that where you actually had to be at the console doing things. I spent quite a few years there. Then my formative sales years, I was primarily with Hewlett-Packard and a company called EMC, which was acquired by Dell, so EMC VMware.

Raymond Hawkins: Did you work at IBM? I didn’t know that, did you?

Jeff Barber: No, no.

Raymond Hawkins: Just on the mainframe side with mainframe?

Jeff Barber: Well, mainframes, actually there were many computers from a company called Deck. Then prior to that, Concurrent and Tandem, believe it or not, so we’re going way back.

Raymond Hawkins: Tandem, you’re going way back.

Jeff Barber: Going way back.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s Tandem pre the Compaq acquisition.

Jeff Barber: That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: You’re going way back.

Jeff Barber: Well, the equipment wasn’t actually new that I was on, so it had some age on it already.

Raymond Hawkins: You got an EMC stint in there too.

Jeff Barber: Oh my goodness. Yeah, great company.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s some professional selling there.

Jeff Barber: 11 years at EMC, the toughest, best sales environment in the world. EMC was acquired by Dell. As you know, they own VMware and many other products. Ran global accounts for them for the technology sector and just had an absolute blast. I went from working within the data centre, like I said, very cold environment with my contacts popping out, very dry environment. Over to filling the data centre on the IT equipment side, so servers and storage and software, and all of that good stuff.

After about 15 years in the IT sector, I went to work for a developer. We were doing build the suits, we were doing powered shells, data centres, fit outs, so really learned the business from the construction side. It’s when I met you and Compass, and all the other folks. Then Bloom Energy popped on my radar with all of the issues right now with power, access to power, obviously supply chain issues. Most importantly, carbon footprint of data centres, massive, massive power consumers.

Started talking to them and working with them a little bit, understood the messaging much better. I said, “This is beyond a perfect fit for the data centre world,” so came on over to Bloom.

Raymond Hawkins: California the whole time, all your gigs in California?

Jeff Barber: All my gigs in California, but most of those at the airport.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. Yeah.

Jeff Barber: Right. I’d call it home base.

Raymond Hawkins: In and out of SFO a few times?

Jeff Barber: Just a few times.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah.

Jeff Barber: Just about once a week. Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: All right. Technology the whole time, which is, I think you and I, one of the reasons we connect so well, having spent a career filling the building full of computers, understanding what needs to go on there.

As we switch and think about how did we get here, how did we end up where we have power constraints literally in every meaningful market, right?

Jeff Barber: Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: There’s some issue with how do we get power, how do we get it delivered, and what do we do to feed these very power thirsty facilities and computers? As you leave the construction business, leave the data centre business and you hear the Bloom story.

Talk to me there about what about Bloom stood out to you and you said, “Hey, this makes sense and I ought to be helping these guys grow this business”?

Jeff Barber: Yeah, absolutely. You hit it on the head. Most of popular markets have power constraints right now, but like most issues, that’s a multitude of factors that drove that. First and foremost, being the environment, the climate, carbon footprint, the desire to shift towards greener energy. That does put constraints on a centralised grid, which is another contributing factor.

When the grid is centralised, it’s difficult to transmit to some of these locations in the quantities that we need. We’re talking tens of megawatts or hundreds of megawatts in some cases, as you know. The Bloom message is essentially, there is time value to reducing carbon now. We’re all marching towards zero carbon footprint. That’s a fantastic goal, it’s a goal I believe that will be achieved.

But today, it’s extremely difficult. First and foremost, Bloom reduces the carbon footprint of power at the data centre dramatically over centralised utility, that’s today. There is already a capability in the product to be carbon free by using hydrogen as a fuel source versus natural gas or biogas. Today, right now, we can cut the carbon footprint 20%, 25% over standard utility.

I think it’s important to talk about what Bloom is though, and what it is not. Bloom Energy is solid oxide fuel cells that are onsite at your facility in a microgrid form. This is power generation at your facility, without the centralised grid, with the centralised grid.

Raymond Hawkins: Can I ask some dumb questions?

Jeff Barber: Yes, please.

Raymond Hawkins: I think there’s lots of people that think of, “Hey, this is just a big battery pack or this is something.” It’s not that, right?

These are not batteries, we’re not storing energy. We’re actually generating energy inside the fuel cell, correct?

Jeff Barber: That’s exactly right. We get that question a lot.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah.

Jeff Barber: We do have cathodes and anodes printed on each side of each fuel cell. That looks a little like a battery, but that’s not what we’re doing. Bloom is intended to create energy for the facility, to be the primary energy to that facility, 24/7, 365.

Raymond Hawkins: For data centre folks, if we think about I’ve got a diesel gen sitting out back, it’s generating power for me.

It’s not a UPS, I’m not storing anything, I’m literally generating power. That’s what my Bloom fuel cell is doing, right?

Jeff Barber: That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: It’s a power generation device. It may have some storage capability inside it, but it’s generating power. The same kind of concept, it’s power when I need it. It’s generation and it’s flow, and it’s on.

We’re not flipping switches on and off. We’re not waiting for this thing to spin up in five minutes. It’s either on or it’s off, right?

Jeff Barber: That’s exactly right. It does have load-following. You can follow peaks, you can go up and down with the device. But most importantly, great comparison with the generator. There’s no combustion in our device.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: When I say fuel, I’m referring to converting molecules into electrons.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay. I’ve not got an engine, right?

Jeff Barber: I have no combustion, fully solid state. No moving parts other than some circulation fans, which are not mission-critical to the devices and very redundant. I’ve got a solid state device using electric chemical process. That’s the proprietary process for Bloom.

Each device is putting out 55 kW per box. Those are aggregated into a common bus into something we call an energy server, which is six of those devices. From there, we can string them together to provide unlimited power to the facility.

Raymond Hawkins: A standard setup’s got eight, and I’m looking at with 300, 400 kilowatts coming out of it. Does that sound?

Jeff Barber: 320.

Raymond Hawkins: 320?

Jeff Barber: 320. Each box is about 55 kW.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha.

Jeff Barber: It’s a great point. Back to what did I see in Bloom? Looking at Bloom, when we went public, or even before that, when we came out of stealth mode, the devices were putting out say 20 kW, so now we’re at 55 kW. It’s continuously improving. That’s moving up the spectrum, roadmapped as well in the not too distant future.

But we also were able to gain economies of scale as the company grew, so we have much, much, much more competitive pricing in many markets. Certainly in California, we have lower pricing than centralised utility. Everything is falling in line with the company as it relates to data centres.

Raymond Hawkins: We’ll get back to the price conversation, because I do think that’ll be an interesting one. But back up, you were hired to help them grow the data centre business.

Jeff Barber: Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: Talk to me about where Bloom cut their teeth because the business isn’t brand new. The business has been around a decade. How did the business start? What was it doing from the jump? What market was it serving?

Because it certainly appears to me, to be big enough now that it can handle what we’re doing in the data centre business, but it didn’t start there. Back to the beginning, how do we, in the mission-critical space go, “Hey, I can trust this thing”?

Jeff Barber: Yeah, it’s a very good point. Going way back, the device, the founder of the company and inventor, KR, our CEO, actually worked for NASA. The device was intended to produce oxygen for Mars missions. Well, those missions were cancelled or delayed, and KR founded Bloom because we can reverse that process. Creating oxygen is taking energy to molecules. We can reverse that process and take molecules to energy.

The company came out of stealth mode. Then I would say the first deployments were early adopters in the classic sense. Lots of retail, some hospitals, some data centres, some data halls in data centres. Companies like eBay, for instance in Utah, were using Bloom very early on with our friend, Dean Nelson, who I’m sure most of us know.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Running that over there. To the current, this just constant improvement, constant monitoring, which is important to the mission-critical point. Every Bloom device, every fuel cell stack is monitored by Bloom.

Tremendous amount of predictive analysis going on. Your folks have insight to it as well through to the BMS or however they want to look at it.

Raymond Hawkins You say early on hospitals, excuse me, or retail, were they doing it from a cost perspective, or were they doing it from an availability?

Was it because a retail site was far enough away and they needed a generation source? What was the selling point early on?

Jeff Barber: I think a combination. First and foremost, we can get you to market sooner. If you don’t have a transmission line or a substation there, these are devices onsite. These are microgrids onsite. Okay, so behind the metre. There’s an ESG play there as well. Like I said, dramatically reduced carbon footprint.

There are groups, as we know, within companies that look to the future two, three, four, five years out. Some small deployments, testing it, understanding it, putting it through its paces. Many of those after years of deploying Bloom, have zero issues switching wholeheartedly to Bloom as the primary power source.

Raymond Hawkins: Are these hospitals or retailers, are those guys doing instances where they’re not on the grid, they’re not using?

Jeff Barber: There are those.

Raymond Hawkins: Wow. Okay.

Jeff Barber: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: And Bloom’s their primary source?

Jeff Barber: Yes. If we take retail, for instance, we have a little bit different definition within Bloom of what we call critical.

If I’m at a retail location, critical power may be half of the capacity. Maybe I light every other aisle, but I’m not bringing down the business.

Raymond Hawkins: I can still run the cash registers, right?

Jeff Barber: I can still run things, exactly. The data centre industry, as you know, it’s all critical. We call critical IT, but mechanical is just as important as the data hall, right?

Yeah. Primary power, no utility involved, no substation there. Working with the utility, we can load-follow. You can use the utility to shave the peaks. Your hot environment, for instance, in our world, if you’re cooling like crazy.

Raymond Hawkins: Can you use the utility as your backup?

Jeff Barber: You can use the utility as the backup. There is some economic challenges there. You’d be paying reservation.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, because they’re going to say they’re going to have making utility load fees, yeah.

Jeff Barber: But we do have data centre customers that more look like a 2N than an N+1, where we have Bloom is primary power, static transfer switch in the middle. Still a generator involved, but utility is the first point of fail.

Raymond Hawkins:  Gotcha.

Jeff Barber: Right. We go Bloom, to utility, to gens.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha.

Jeff Barber: That’s a deployed architecture today.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. As I think about it as a sales guy, I think, “Okay, I’ve got a green angle that I can sell this on.”

Jeff Barber: Absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: Hey, I’m taking combustion and I’m taking carbon emissions out of the equation. You can take it completely out if you want. I’ve got a time to market equation.

I have some markets, but I don’t have in every market an economic win. There’s some markets where I’m going to be more expensive with the Bloom route. Is that fair to say?

Jeff Barber: Yeah, absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah.

Jeff Barber: If the decision’s being made solely on price, I’m going to have a tough time in Texas or in Phoenix.

Raymond Hawkins: Or I think of hydro markets, where there’re already a fairly green source and they’re fairly inexpensive. There are places where this makes a lot of sense and places where it may not be a perfect fit.

Jeff Barber: Purely economics, that is a reality. It’s interesting though. I’m personally, and the company is seeing a shift where the economics are of course critical.

But Bloom is still being the choice for primary power because of the ESG angle, because of the ability to switch to hydrogen, when the distribution is there, when the production is there.

That’s a carbon-free aspect of the device. Economics also take a little bit of a backseat if I can get you to market one or two or three years.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Time matters a bunch.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Time to power is massive right now.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Let’s stick a pin in that one. We’ll come back to where we’re at globally from a power availability perspective and time to market, because that one I think is a big selling point for the folks in our business, so we’ll do that one in a minute.

As I continue to think through though, why am I selling this? Why are people winning? Why are you making hay with this, how big can we get? Because 300 kilowatts is great, but the scale the people are developing today, we’re talking tens and in some instances, hundreds. Tell me about the success you guys have had in large-scale deployment so far.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Bloom, it’s completely modular, the devices. The energy servers, like I said, are installed on a common bus. Hundreds of megawatts, hundreds of megawatts. There is [inaudible 00:15:23].

Raymond Hawkins: Individual instals that are hundreds of megawatts?

Jeff Barber: Close to it.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay. Tens at this stage?

Jeff Barber: Yeah, definitely tens, for sure. Yep.

Raymond Hawkins: All right, interesting. For that, I’m guessing you’re doing something special from, because as I think about these servers, if you had tens of megawatts with them, you’re covering acres of land. How are you guys handling that today?

Jeff Barber: There’s multiple options there. If the land is available and easy, we have some data centres in Napa, for instance, where they have enough land.

If it’s constrained, Asia for instance, and definitely in California, we have a designed power tower, we call it. Essentially, it looks a little bit like a parking garage that the devices are stacked.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha.

Jeff Barber: Right? It is another structure, but again, it’s replacing or supplementing the substation. There are multiple ways to instal it. If it’s a brand-new build, you could even put them on the roof. They’re heavy devices, but you could do it.

Raymond Hawkins: Thinking if I don’t have a substation, can I get a power tower in about the same footprint as a substation?

Jeff Barber: About the same footprint, yes. Footprint’s the right term. It would be higher.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. It’s going to be bigger.

Jeff Barber: It’d be higher. Three or four stories, let’s say.

Raymond Hawkins: How are the AHJs handling that with you guys, how do they look at it? The power tower and just your footprint all together, you guys having challenges?

Because I think about it, you’re not generating, so you don’t need to get permits from an emissions’ perspective. Do they look at you and go, “Hey, no problem,” from an appearance perspective?

Jeff Barber: It depends. It depends. Depends on where you’re at in the country and in the world, but great point.

Raymond Hawkins: Do they think of you as the yard? I’m just wondering how, because you’re not really generating, but I got also got to think you’re not…

Jeff Barber: It depends on the utility, it really depends on the utility. Some welcome us with open arms, some not so much. Bloom works through all of that with you.

We have folks that work through the legislation, that work with permitting, work with design. Yeah, we help you through that whole process.

Raymond Hawkins: But I’m thinking from a sales perspective of, “Hey, yes, there’s a green view to this because I don’t have emissions. But I also think from a planning and permitting perspective, if I don’t have to…”

Because there’s lots of, especially here in the US where we have trouble getting sufficient permits to do generation. This could be another reason why I go, “Hey, Bloom makes sense because I don’t need emission permits.”

Jeff Barber: Yeah. This is true.

Raymond Hawkins: I’m assuming, right? You don’t need any emission permit.

Jeff Barber: No NOx and Sox. If you’re in California, there’s no CEQA process to go through. The amount of particulates is almost immeasurable, there’re essentially none, NOx and Sox.

 We do as a function of the electric chemical process today, if we’re using natural gas or biogas, we do release some carbon dioxide. That’s typically 20%, 25% less than a standard utility would.

That’s back to the time value of doing something now so we can reduce now. Again, the hydrogen roadmap is already there.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. You mentioned hydrogen earlier. What are we using in a fuel source today? Tell me what’s the hydrogen roadmap look like? I think we’re using natural gas, right?

Jeff Barber: Natural gas or biogas.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: The device is actually based on hydrogen today. Within the Bloom box, we have what’s called a steam reformation process. We take in the natural gas or the biogas as an example, we’re extracting from that essentially the CH4, the hydrogen. That’s what we’re using to produce the electrons. That is much lower emissions, like I said, the hydrogen roadmap. Bloom is essentially using hydrogen today.

But if we go up to a 20% blend today, if you have hydrogen available along with the natural gas, the product that is all hydrogen, it requires different fuel rails. For instance, different materials in the fuel rails. Each fuel cell has fuel coming up each side of it. Those ports or ducts need to be a different size. Hydrogen is less dense.

Raymond Hawkins: Based on what you’re using, right?

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Based on what you’re using, but it’s not a lift and replace. During the normal maintenance cycle with the energy server, we would take one device offline, which still leaves you with your peak load.

We size them, so you have that redundancy. We essentially remove the guts of the devices and put in a hydrogen.

Raymond Hawkins: I gotcha. I got natural gas guts. I take those out, I put in hydrogen guts and I’m back up and rolling.

Jeff Barber: Again, those are going to be different fuel lines, stainless steel lines, things like that.

Raymond Hawkins: As a developer, I’m thinking about that and I think, “Okay, the power infrastructure’s really clear. I understand distribution lines and generation and substations, and I got that infrastructure really well.”

I think I get the natural gas infrastructure fairly well, I think it’s pretty well-built out. I think we’d like more, but pretty well-built out.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, exactly.

Raymond Hawkins: I have no clue, what does the hydrogen distribution system look like? Is that a thing? Can you run hydrogen lines to your site? Does that happen?

Jeff Barber: It does happen. Not so much in the US yet.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: Places like Singapore there’s quite a bit of production. No, you hit it on the head. That’s what I mean by the time value to lowering carbon now. Hydrogen distribution is just not there yet. Hydrogen production [inaudible 00:20:50].

Raymond Hawkins: There’s not a, “Hey, where’s the nearest hydrogen point?” Oh, it’s just two metres up. All we got to do is hit the distribution line. That’s not a thing, right?

Jeff Barber: Yep. That’s not a thing.

Raymond Hawkins: Are you bringing it on trucks or what are you doing?

Jeff Barber: No, no. We’re actually today, we’re natural gas and biogas.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay, here.

Jeff Barber: Where it makes sense for hydrogen is really, I would say three to six years from now, if everything comes to fruition with distribution and generation, and of course, the economics of hydrogen, you are ready with Bloom today.

When and if that occurs, you’re generating power today, you’re powering your critical facility. Four years down the road, five years down the road during a normal maintenance cycle, we can replace the natural, gas-based innards with the hydrogen-based.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. I gotcha.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Same technology though, nothing’s changed.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. The system works the same, it’s just different emissions. Do you get any performance boost from hydrogen? Does my 320 turn into 450 or anything like that?

Jeff Barber: No, no, no, no. It’s not a boost. Hydrogen is much less density than natural gas. Essentially the same, maybe 1% or 2% lower. I don’t know that exact number, but you’re carbon free, you’re carbon free day one.

Raymond Hawkins: Before we talk about the global power situation, I’m still fascinated by the Bloom technology. What’s the roadmap look like? Because 320’s great, but our industry keeps taking down more and more power. What’s the roadmap look like?

You mentioned at the beginning, it was a 20 kilowatt in a single device. What are we looking like? What are you guys, do you have a published roadmap? What does it say today?

Jeff Barber: I don’t know that it’s published, good question. I would say that you will see some 20% plus boosts in density.

Raymond Hawkins: Our technology show and talk about published roadmaps.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: Let me tell you what we’re going to do to our chips in 2027.

Jeff Barber: I’ll go back to my software days and I’ll give you a month.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s right, that’s right.

Jeff Barber: In June, we’ll have this.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s right. Yeah. Q2 of ’27 is our target.

Jeff Barber: That’s our target.

Raymond Hawkins: Exactly right.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. We will see some significant capacity boosts, like I said, 20% plus in the future, not too distant future from Bloom. Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: I gotcha. If it started at 20 and we’re at 55, and you’re going to get another 20%, are there advances? I think about in our world, chips and microprocessors and more. Is the technology having that advancement, or can you guys keep doing it?

Or is it, “Hey, we look at these things and this thing’s going to be a 500 kilowatt thing, and that’s what we’re aiming towards and it’s never going to get bigger than that,” or are there advances happening?

Jeff Barber: That’s a great question. No, there are definitely advances happening. The base product remains the same. The solid oxide fuel cells remain the same. There are things we can do with different types of cathodes and anodes that we actually print on to the electrolyte. Is it infinite? No. I wouldn’t say that it’s an infinite growth.

It’s not like a Moore’s law of power generation, but I think the real advantages come around the economics involved. As Bloom grows, the economy’s of scale become more and more favourable. It’s a great point. We’re manufactured 100% in the United States, and in Delaware, and in Fremont, California. We’re ramping to be able to hit, avoid any backlog issues. We’re ramping up production right now.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. I would imagine backlogs coming for you guys, the way that we’ll get to the power conversation in a little bit. Yeah, but I could see how you guys, people are starting to ring your phone, I imagine a pretty good bit.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff Barber: Absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah. Before we get to the power conversation, how big are we talking? One of these power servers is eating up how much space? The other question, how heavy?

I’m just interested, can I put this somewhere or do I need a foundation for it? Tell me how big and how heavy the thing is.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Approximately one metre squared from a footprint perspective.

Raymond Hawkins: For one power server?

Jeff Barber: Well, and power server is actually eight Bloom devices.

Raymond Hawkins: Eight of those, eight one-metre squares. Okay.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Eight one-metre squares essentially. But two of those eight, are things like inverters or things like fuel filters, and some of the microcontroller equipment that we need. Six of those are producing power.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: Square metre, about seven feet high approximately. These are in ruggedized.

Raymond Hawkins: A big refrigerator.

Jeff Barber: A big refrigerator. Yeah, maybe a double door type of thing. They’re ruggedized, they’re meant to be outside. We can deliver them skid-mounted. Otherwise, they’re on a pad. They can be on heavily compacted ground.

Raymond Hawkins: You can deliver them skid-mounted. Otherwise, do you bring me eight units and I set it on a pad? Is that how it normally goes?

Jeff Barber: Typically.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay, gotcha.

Jeff Barber: Typically, and then we would obviously string those together onto the bus and get to the capacity you need. We always size for failures.

It’s a highly redundant and very granular system, so we’re ready to take one offline to do maintenance. We can handle a fuel cell outage if we had that for some reason. Like I said, no moving parts to speak of.

Raymond Hawkins: Who’s monitoring that box? Is it tied into my BMS? Are you monitoring it? How am I tracking what goes on inside that thing?

Jeff Barber: Bloom is absolutely fanatic about monitoring for several reasons. Obviously, the break/fix aspect of it, of powering critical facilities, we need to know if something is wrong. Predictive analysis is huge for Bloom, using ML/AI looking for future failures or future warning signs that there could be a failure. Now that being said, your folks in the SOC, your folks on site, your ops folks.

Yeah. We have Modbus integration, set points you can view. They can see if it went from green to red to yellow and see what’s going on. Bloom will obviously let operations know when we’re coming out to do something. The answer is both. We have a tremendous amount of monitoring, auto alerts, all of the above, predictive analysis. But your folks can look into the box as well from an alert perspective.

Raymond Hawkins: I know you don’t want to talk about bad things that happen, but can you give me a perspective on in our world, we lose power, failure. We’re managing the power, we’re managing redundancy.

What does bad look like in a Bloom world? What does something really terrible happen and that system went offline? What does that look like?

Jeff Barber: To bring the entire system offline is pretty much going to be lack of fuel.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: Okay? We lose a major natural gas pipeline.

Raymond Hawkins: I was just going to say, but I’m running off of a pipeline that’s underground.

Jeff Barber: Exactly, exactly. You’re not up on aerials, like with power, where storms and car accidents.

Raymond Hawkins: It’s not going to take me out, right.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. You’re not going to have a truck crashing into my substation or something like that or the utilities’ substation, so much, much more stable. There are many examples where utilities have been down and Bloom had absolutely no impact, but lack of fuel would do it. We’re converting molecules.

If we don’t have those molecules, I can’t give you electrons. The modularity of the system though, we have some pretty cool pictures of construction equipment falling over and crushing a couple of devices, and one or two of them went offline, but the other ones remained up. They’re all independent. They’re just talking on a common bus.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. You’re making me think of my AS/400 days where the box is half full of water and it’s still running, it’s that kind of stuff.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, it’s that kind of stuff.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, I gotcha.

Jeff Barber: Exactly.

Raymond Hawkins: Interesting. All right. Let’s talk a little bit about you’ve mentioned a few times how fast you can get us power, because today in our business, in the data centres, we have living through COVID, this huge spike in demand for our customers. They all built tonnes of capacity. We all went onto the grid and committed a bunch of power. I think everyone in our space pretty familiar with what’s going on in northern Virginia.

Novak and Dominion struggling with, “Hey, how do I get sufficient distribution out?” That’s driving a lot of us to ask the question. “Okay. If I can’t get it off the grid, where can I get it?” I’ve got to believe that’s making your phone ring. Talk to me about in markets where I’m getting told three or four or even five years for power, how big can you be? How fast can you be? How you manage in that, and is that starting to drive activity in your business?

Jeff Barber: Yeah, absolutely starting to drive activity in the business. Bloom has been planning for this, not this type of event, but this type of uptick. We’re bringing more and more manufacturing capability online all the time.

I think we started with an annual ability of about 200 megawatts, and we’re gigawatts now of production capability out of Delaware and out of Fremont. How long does it take to get on site? I would say months versus years. The reason I say that, is it’s not difficult to get the devices produced and shipped.

Raymond Hawkins: I’m asking a scale question. If I want 30 megs of production and I make the call and say, “I need 30 megs and I need it in south Texas,” what’s it look like?

Jeff Barber: Six to nine months, I think we’d be onsite, installed, ready to rock. Some of it depends on permitting, obviously. There’s outside influences that can cause delays, but it is months versus years.

Raymond Hawkins: We’re doing it natural gas, right? That’s the way we’re doing it today?

Jeff Barber: Natural gas or biogas.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Okay. Gotcha.

Jeff Barber: You got it.

Raymond Hawkins: Nine months compared to, because that’s the problem we’re running into right now, is in most markets we’re measuring everything in years. What does the agreement look like?

 Am I buying the device and I can generate all the power I want? Am I paying just like I pay a utility? Do I have a metre? What does it look like when I go economically, how are we doing this?

Jeff Barber: Yes to all.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: It can be a capital acquisition. Of course, you buy the gear, you buy a service contract for maintenance and things like that.

You’re procuring the natural gas from the distributor, from the utility. That’s a perfectly viable model. Most common for Bloom, is a power purchase agreement.

Raymond Hawkins: Hold on, I want to make sure I understand that one. I contract with the natural gas provider. He’s running a metre for me, that’s feeding my equipment and what I get from electricity out of the equipment’s mine.

Jeff Barber: Yes.

Raymond Hawkins: You guys don’t care because you sold me the gear.

Jeff Barber: That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: I’m paying him for the gas. I bought the gear from you and what I get out of it, I get out of it.

Jeff Barber: That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: I can get the maximum throughput, or I could get half. It doesn’t really, at that point, you guys don’t care, right?

Jeff Barber: No, we don’t care in that example.

Raymond Hawkins: I say don’t care, meaning economic. I know from a service, customer provision, all that stuff, but I’m paying the gas provider for the gas utilisation, and I’m getting as much energy as I can get out of my boxes.

Jeff Barber: That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay.

Jeff Barber: That’s right. We’re behind the metre at that point.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay. I can do that in a capital arrangement with you. I can write you a check for it.

Jeff Barber: You can absolutely do that.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay, I got that one. What’s another way I can do it?

Jeff Barber: Most common is power purchase agreement arrangements, where Bloom looks like a utility, we’re charging you a fixed rate.

Raymond Hawkins: Charging me per kilowatt-hour?

Jeff Barber: Yeah.


Raymond Hawkins: Exactly, exactly. The reason that’s attractive, is we can do things with futures on fuel, for instance. We can help you level out, so it becomes a very predictable cost.

You’re talking about from a source, a gas source perspective?

Jeff Barber: Yeah. That’s not the only reason. It’s OPEX versus CapEx, depends on your model.

Raymond Hawkins: Sure.

Jeff Barber: As you know, some managed service providers may prefer an OPEX model to a CapEx model, Compass.

Raymond Hawkins: Sure. If you’re dealing with the end user directly too, he may want an OPEX model.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, that’s a great point. The tenants in our world are absolutely influential in this. They care about the environment. They’re driving these terms in the leases, as you probably know.

They want to understand the carbon footprint of the building. They want to understand the carbon footprint of the power generation. That is just another great benefit of Bloom. We check all those boxes today.

Raymond Hawkins: All right. I got I can capitally buy it and I pay the gas company, and you guys have a service contract with me to monitor my gear. I can have a power purchase agreement with you, and I’m assuming all my service and all of that is included.

What happens to the gas company in that model? Are you guys contracting with them and it’s all covered in my rate, or do I still contract with the gas provider, or I can do it either way?

Jeff Barber: Either way.

Raymond Hawkins: Okay, I gotcha.

Jeff Barber: If I just pay you a price per kilowatt-hour, you can take care of everything for me, for lack of a turnkey solution, right?

Yes. That’s right.

Raymond Hawkins: You’ll handle the gas company negotiation for me.

Jeff Barber: We will. We’ll be right there with you, absolutely. Yeah. It typically will look like, perhaps almost like a joint venture on this power purchase agreement. Then exactly, we charge you per kilowatt-hour.

Fuel can be included in that. We can work on hedging if it’s a volatile environment for fuel. It’s essentially just an economic model. How do you want to see it? Bloom is very flexible. Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: Got it. We tap danced around it a little bit, I’ve got customers that want to be in my building and they drive a lot of how I do it. They have pretty strong opinions about how I do it from an ESG perspective. Today, how have you guys handled the customer base from a you deal directly with the customer? I think of a hospital or a retailer, you’re providing and you’ve got your customer, and it’s really clean.

In the service provider, because you mentioned MSP or guys in my business that are building buildings, real estate guys. How are those three party, for lack of a better term, transactions, how are those going? Have you done a lot of them? How is that looking for you guys? Is it something you’re good at yet? Where are you at in that process? Because I get when you go to a retailer and he wants power, there’s two parties and it’s pretty straightforward.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, it’s pretty straightforward.

Raymond Hawkins: But I think of a service provider or a developer, either one, I’d like to understand how’s that going for you?

Jeff Barber: Yeah. Someone walking into a hardware store to buy a hammer, is not really going to be concerned with how that hardware store is receiving their power, not true for our work.

Raymond Hawkins: Not in my business. My business, they care.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. No, I think that you hit on the head exactly why Bloom has this vertical, the data centre vertical. There are multiple influencers, there are tenants, there are design shops. You’ve got the Corgans and others. You’ve got GCs like Holder and Turner and Hit, and everybody that builds the buildings. Then you’ve got the landlord, the Compass of the world. Then you’ve got the tenant and you will be influenced by what the tenant says. You care about that lease. That’s exactly why we have a vertical for data centres.

It’s absolutely number one top priority for me to articulate the Bloom value to the tenants, to the design shops, to the GCs, even to the operators. Are we good at that today? No. No, we’re not. The world, the tenants need to know that we’re here and there’s another alternative. There is a way to reduce your carbon credits that you’re buying today, and that’s with us. That’s the number one priority for me personally, it’s messaging and branding to the influencers. The data centre world is fairly consolidated as you know. We have 15 to 25 big players, and then it drops off.

Raymond Hawkins: It changes dramatically after that.

Jeff Barber: Dramatically after that and it’s very, very global.

Raymond Hawkins: Jeff, is it too much for me to say is that this is part of what Bloom is building this division for is to get in that conversation in that, I hate the word ecosystem, but I’ll say it?

In that data centre ecosystem, where you’ve got there are developers and are design firms, and are customers and are providers, is that why this division’s being stood up, is that Bloom says, “Hey, this is a real market for us”?

Jeff Barber: I think that’s a very big part of it.

Raymond Hawkins: I appreciate the humility of you saying we’re not good at it yet. You guys are starting to figure this part out. “Hey, this business needs us. We need this business, and let’s figure out how to do it as a group.”

Jeff Barber: Exactly. No, we have a tremendous team today, and our team is expanding very quickly. I’m bringing in some true data centre veterans, some true pros that can speak across the spectrum. You hit it on the head again, it exists in large part, this vertical exists in order to begin articulating the message, branding the product, fixing some of the misconceptions. We’re not a battery, we’re not a generator.

We don’t instantly turn on, we don’t replace a UPS. There are instances where you could probably do that, but in general, the data centre world is somewhat conservative with standards. The company, I think, has some great foresight in trying to get to the influencers, and yes, that’s a big part of why the vertical exists. The other part is [inaudible 00:37:44].

Raymond Hawkins: Two seconds. Dean, that’s why they’re looking at you, Dean, right?

Jeff Barber: Leave that in.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah, dean’s going to get to hear his name again. That’s right.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, Mr. Dean. Yeah. I’ll be with him I think later today. Also, you need to, with these types of customers, whether it’s semiconductor manufacturing or whether it’s network gear, or whether it’s data centres, your team needs to speak the language of the customer. In the case of data centres and most other verticals, they’re global. Centralised decision-making typically in the US, but not always, but centralised.

They want to know what you’re doing in Dublin, Ireland, what you’re doing in London, what you’re doing in Germany. Places where power is even more constrained than the US by far. The pricing is not stopping, it’s getting atmospheric at this point. It’s taking off crazy. We need to look like the customer, that’s the bottom line. They need to know that they have a central place they can go to. They have a group that speaks their language.

They have a group that they’re not going to need to educate every time they speak to someone new. I know what you mean when you’re talking about PUE, and I know what you mean when you’re talking about medium voltage gear and everything else that we talked about. Everything, we get it, we get it.

Raymond Hawkins: One last thing, let’s hit on the story I think is fascinating. I think I get a pretty good understanding of why it’s getting popular and why you’re having all the conversations, and frankly why you’re here.

Jeff Barber: Yeah, absolutely.

Raymond Hawkins: What does the competitive landscape look like for you? I don’t think you’re a competitor to a utility. You’re an augmenter or you’re an enhancer, or you’re a collaborator. I don’t think you’re really a competitor with a utility, so who are you a competitor with?

Jeff Barber: I’ll hit the utility one first. I’ll take that in reverse. It depends on the utility. Bloom has a fantastic focus, similar to the data centre world on the utilities. We have a group of utility professionals that are working with utilities to supplement their power as within the primary grid. So not behind the metre, in front of the metre this time. Bloom can actually get the utility there more quickly.

It depends on the utility, whether or not they see us as competitive or a risk of some sort when we’re behind the metre. Very much depends on your location. From a fuel cell, Bloom is the oldest with the most experience. I can’t think of anyone with the scale that we have, hundreds of megawatts, gigawatts deployed globally, global support, all of that. The competition [inaudible 00:40:22].

Raymond Hawkins: I’m not asking you to mention your competitors, but is that legit? You guys are, I know you’ve been around more than a decade. You guys have got hundreds of instals, is it’s the most mature?

Jeff Barber: Thousands.

Raymond Hawkins: Thousands. Yeah, okay.

Jeff Barber: For sure, absolutely. No one has been doing this longer than Bloom, which is why we have such a head start, in my opinion, from a manufacturing, from a scale perspective, from a global support perspective, follow the sun, maintenance and support.

Like I said, 24/7, always there. A competitor in our world might be gas turbines, might be diesel gens, if I’m looking at Africa or something or some other form of generation with a massive carbon footprint.

Raymond Hawkins: You guys seeing any traction in Africa? I got to think you’re infinitely more reliable than their grid. Is that something that’s a play for you guys already?

Jeff Barber: Certainly conversations. Yeah, nothing formal inked yet whatsoever. But some very, very scalable designs that we’re working on with a particular provider called Kasi Cloud, K-A-S-I. Dean’s involved with that as well.

Raymond Hawkins: Dean, we see you again.

Jeff Barber: That’s through Cato working with Kasi Cloud, massive demand. In the Lagos region, there’s 15.4 million people. The hyperscalers need to be in there. They want to be in there.

Like I said, nothing formal inked yet, but certainly designs underway for how we could generate 100 megawatts of power for Kasi with a much lower carbon footprint and five-nines of availability versus no-nines. Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, versus like three-sevens.

Jeff Barber: Yeah. I think it’s two-eights.

Raymond Hawkins: Two-eights, sorry. Yeah. I think of the first time I went to Africa, I was fascinated by how many people carried cellphones, and it was still fairly early in the cell. Having conversations with business people there, they’re like, “Look, we didn’t build a phone network the first go around. We didn’t build a wired phone network.”

We just skipped over that phase and we just went straight to cellular, because it was a much easier system to distribute. I think the same thing, right? It’s not a terribly sophisticated power generation continent or country. I could see skipping over that and just seeing you guys.

Jeff Barber: That’s a fantastic example. That’s a fantastic example. No, you’re spot on. There is a true desire to start being green, day one.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s right, from the beginning.

Jeff Barber: This is greenfield.

Raymond Hawkins: We don’t need to build a coal fire power plant. Let’s do something else, because it wasn’t here 80 years ago, so we don’t have to start there, right.

Jeff Barber: Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, interesting.

Jeff Barber: Dean’s organisation through Cato, is giving you zero carbon compute as a managed service. Kasi Cloud is paying maniacal attention to the sustainability of that building. The way in which they cool it, the way in which they build it, obviously, and the way in which they power it, most importantly.

Start from day one with a much greener solution. Like I said, sitting there ready for hydrogen, if it gets there, if we need to go there, it’s not a problem for us. That’s exactly how they’re looking at it. The cellphone example is a great one. It’s a great one.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, it’s fascinating. Well, Jeff, I really appreciate you coming and hanging out with us, even though it was 6:30 in the morning.

Jeff Barber: 6:30.

Raymond Hawkins: I know that’s brutal.

Jeff Barber: 6:30.

Raymond Hawkins: We really appreciate that. I’ll mention it one more time. Yes, it’s 6:30 in the morning, but thanks for talking with us about Bloom Energy.

We’re excited what you guys are doing, and grateful to see you in our space and see your team starting to understand our space and help us solve the problems.

Because at the end of the day, we get asked all the time about power. I’m like, “Hey, you keep wanting to order food off of Uber Eats. I think you still want your cellphone to work.”

Jeff Barber: You still want the infrastructure.

Raymond Hawkins: You need us to be able to be behind it. We really appreciate it, Jeff. Excited for what the future holds for you guys. Thanks, man.

Jeff Barber: Thank you.

Raymond Hawkins: Take care.

Jeff Barber: Thanks. Bye.

Raymond Hawkins: Good to see you, man.

Jeff Barber: Good to see you.

Raymond Hawkins: Take care.