AFCOM is one of several industry data center organizations that hold
the Data Center World conference. They meet from time to time to discuss interesting
topics, then tour a data center. Recently, the topic was fuel cells, and the
meeting was hosted at Data Domain.
The meeting consisted of four parts: fuel cell 101, Fujitsu’s actual
use of fuel cells, panel discussions, and a tour of Data Domain’s data center.
Jesse Smith of Nova Partners gave a pretty precise presentation on
what fuel cell technology is all about.
I cannot reproduce his whole discussion here, but he talked about three
major fuel cell vendors. I hear there are hundreds of vendors in this space,
but he picked only major ones that use different technologies.
Jesse talked about the California Public Utilities Commission's
Self-Generation Incentive Program. Without going into details, if you generate 200
kW, your rebate from CPUC is in the range of $500,000 to $1 million. He also said
that the rule of thumb for deciding if this makes sense for you is as follows. Get
a price (A) for 1 kW and figure out how many BTUs are required for generating 1
kW of electricity. Get a price (B) for that BTU. If the difference between A
and B (A being larger) is three cents or more, then it is good to go with fuel
Following Jesse’s talk, Ted Viviani of Fujitsu discussed his experience
in implementing fuel cell technology for their campus in Sunnyvale, CA, where I
have visited several times in the past. His talk was full of data, and I hate
not to be able to show some of the details. (I might discuss those details in a
future blog.) The following slide compares his fuel cell solution with Google’s
In this slide, he shows his box and the energy comparison:
Google’s PV required 400,000 sq. ft. to produce 2,329,380 kWh per
year. Ted’s system used 164.8 sq. ft. and produced 1,654,608 kWh. In 0.04% of
Google’s space, his system produced 71.03% of Google’s energy. It is certainly
very energy effective. He also showed a map of United Technology’s deployment (below).
Japan is full of dots, considering that it is almost one-thirtieth the size of
The panel session consisted of the following speakers:
- Jesse Smith, Senior Project Manager,
- Subodh Bapat, Vice President and
Distinguished Engineer for Oracle
- Ted Viviani, Building Operations
Manager, Fujitsu Management Services of America
- Michael Bangs, Director of Facilities
From left: Jesse Smith (standing), Subodh Bapat, Ted Viviani, and Michael
Again, only some of the highlights are discussed here.
- The boot time of a fuel cell system is
from 8 to 18 hours. Thus, it cannot be used in place of a generator.
- The fuel cell system should be used as
a baseline system and supported by another power source, such as a utility.
- It is too early to try to implement a
data center fueled by a fuel cell system alone.
- Fujitsu and Adobe consider that a fuel
cell system can provide power to entire buildings, including data centers.
- For Adobe, approval to install a fuel
cell system was straightforward. This was because Adobe is striving to be a
green company with less of a carbon footprint and a good sustainability story. The
CFO estimated a 4-to-5-year ROI.
Overall, this was a good meeting for getting to know more about fuel
cell and its potential use to fuel (pun intended) data centers. The technology
has been around for many years, but only recently (thanks to Bloom Energy) has
it received huge attention. Because of its nature (it cannot restart quickly),
it should be used as a baseline power supply.
One last note is that Subodh Bapat mentioned that a community in
Japan uses PV to generate hydrogen during the day then uses that hydrogen to
generate power (via fuel cell) during the night. I plan to go to Japan in two
weeks, and if I can find a way to visit them, I will certainly report on it.