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Bloom Energy is toning down talk of its much-speculated IPO plans this year and looking to expand its reach with a new, more affordable offering that sells electricity generated from its fuel cell-packed Bloom Box, without requiring customers to pay for any of the pricey Bloom hardware.
“We’re not focused on an IPO, we’re focused on building a company that can deliver clean, reliable affordable energy, and we’re quite happy with our ability to finance our company through the private markets,” said Bill Kurtz, CFO. (Pictured left is Bloom Energy CEO KR Sridhar.)
Last year, peHUB reported Bloom was attempting to raise $50 million pre-2011 IPO, on top of $400 million already raised from venture firms like Kleiner Perkins. It’s unclear whether Bloom successfully raised the money or not — SEC filings are scant, and the company hasn’t made any announcements regarding additional funding. Bloom burst onto the scene last year with high-profile clients like Walmart, Google and eBay, who all installed the Bloom Box, a fuel cell unit that converts natural gas into electricity, powerful enough to supply up to 100 American homes.
I wondered if the new electricity program, called Bloom Electrons, would mark a change in strategy for the company. Because its units are expensive (reportedly around $800,000) — a price some would argue is prohibitive — Bloom had also previously talked about producing a smaller, $3,000 Bloom Box that could power an individual home. And yep, it looks like Bloom will be focusing on the potential of the Electrons program, so it’s unlikely there will be a mini-Bloom Box on the market any time soon:
“The potential (for a smaller box) is there. Right now, given the significant demand and interest we have from the commercial customers, we’re focused at this time for the next few years on satisfying the demand for commercial (installations),” Kurtz said.
Selling the electricity directly to consumers at competitive rates takes away all talk of capital-investment obstacles, and it’s a program in high demand from Bloom’s customers, Kurtz says. The cost of electricity via the Bloom Electrons program should shave five to 20 percent off energy costs and allow customers to lock in electricity costs for 10-year periods.
The unit reportedly costs somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000, and Greentech Media made the case that the box’s actual price per watt comes out to a hefty $12.50. Kurtz said the company doesn’t release those numbers because they fluctuate as the technology improves — saying only that the company’s shareholders and customers are happy.
“We’re seeing the benefits of scaling, of manufacturing, of supply improvements in our design, which is making the box more efficient, more cost-effective,” Kurtz said. “We’re very clear that as a company, we need to be competitive with the alternative.”
Kurtz says that the Electrons program, while only available in California (all of Bloom’s installations to date have been limited to California), could easily be replicated across the country and even the world.
The appeal of programs like Bloom Electrons is that they aim to mimic traditional power delivery from the grid. You doesn’t have to help finance construction of a coal-fired plant in order to turn on a light in your home, so the model allows companies to present customers a more appealing deal: No capital cost of hardware, be green and, with the help of subsidies and efficient technology, get alternative energy at prices competitive with traditional energy prices.