Like many developing nations, PNG faces many basic infrastructural challenges. It does not help either that our politics gets involved in the mix to make a simple decision a complicated long drawn out process that eventually never achieves its basic goal. Some time back one to had to laugh at the mere suggestion of using coal as an energy source in PNG. What the hell were they thinking?
So before I go on, you’re probably wondering who this smiley guy with the boxes is? And what is the box anyway? And why does she want to touch his boxes? Well I can’t answer the last question, but this is Dr. K. R. Sridhar the founder and scientist behind the company Bloom Energy. Bloom Energy has been secretly plying away over the last 8 years (with $400 million funding from investors like Kleiner Perkins) to produce what they call the Bloom Box. The full story is scheduled to be played on the US 60 minutes show sometime tonight.
What does the Bloom Box do? Well apparantely those two blocks you can see above can power the average high-consumption American home, (one block can power the average European home). So you can imagine how many villages or settlement houses this could perhaps power in PNG then.
The original technology for the Bloom Box came from an oxygen generator that Dr. Sridhar was working on for a NASA Mars program. However when the project was scrapped the project was reverse engineered to become a fuel cell. Bloom Energy’s design feeds oxygen into one side of a cell while fuel (natural gas, bio gas from landfill waste, solar, etc) is supplied to the other side to provide the chemical reaction required for power. The cells themselves are inexpensive ceramic disks painted with a secret green “ink” on one side and a black “ink” on the other. The disks are separated by a cheap metal alloy, instead of more precious metals like platinum, and stacked into a cube of varying capabilities — a stack of 64 can power a small business like Big Rooster.
Okay now I know what most of you are thinking. Sounds like another ‘oh-so-wonderful-green-energy-idea’ but does it work? Well looks like Bloom Energy has already sold some of their refrigertor size corporate models (at USD$700,000 to USD$800,000) to 20 customers you’ve already heard of including FedEx and Wal-mart — Google was first to this green energy party, using its Bloom Boxes to power a data center for the last 18 months. Ebay has installed its boxes on the front lawn of its San Jose location. It estimates to receive almost 15% of its energy needs from Bloom, saving about USD$100,000 since installing its five boxes 9 months ago — an estimate we assume doesn’t factor in the millions Ebay paid for the boxes themselves. Bloom makes about one box a day at the moment and believes that within 5 to 10 years it can drive down the cost to about USD$3,000 to make it suitable for home use.
Bloom Energy will be going public on Wednesday (US time), so back in PNG what could the possibilities be? Well if any PNG Power people are reading this, maybe start following their progress because:
- It is “fuel agnostic,” meaning the boxes can be run on existing propane, natural gas, or ethanol sources, but can also be run on plant waste (biomass) or almost anything containing hyrdogen and carbon. Don’t we have allot of LNG coming up?
- The boxes operate independent of the power grid, meaning that people can live in their villages wherever they are in PNG and still enjoy power.
- You could go even further with interesting business joint ventures like Bloom Boxes with electric car recharge stations from ‘Better Place‘.
But even with 2 major LNG projects coming up and PNG Power under going a major overhaul this year, if politics rears its ugly head again to slow progress, you know what, lets all buy our own Bloom Boxes and ship them into PNG to run our own power for our own houses. Because as Dr. Sridhar said, “I want to open up access to energy the way that PCs and the Web opened up access to information,” … “So people can live where they want, and still be connected, without someone telling them when they can do their laundry.”
A distributed energy system would also be far less susceptible to attack or natural disaster or most disruptive of all in PNG, politics.