Intelligent Energy

eBay data center will skip the grid for fuel cell energy

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eBay is the first major tech company to use fuel cells as its primary source of power rather than the traditional electric grid.

The next phase of eBay's flagship data center in Utah will be powered by fuel cells from Bloom Energy, allowing the new section of the facility to run independently from the electric grid.

The 6-megawatt installation will consist of 30 Bloom Energy servers and is expected to operational by mid-2013, eBay said today. Each server will generate 1.75 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The servers will be installed a few hundred feet from the data center, eliminating traditional utility grid losses, eBay said. The company said the fuel cells will replace the large, expensive backup generators and UPS components that have historically been used less than 1 percent of the year.

Data center operators are increasingly seeking out alternative sources of energy, usually as a supplemental source of power. The fuel cells at eBay's data center addition, which will double the size of the current facility, will be the primary source of power. The electric utility grid will be used only as backup, eBay said.

The fuel cell project, as well as eBay's 665 kw solar array atop its existing Utah data center, helps explain the company support earlier this year of Utah Senate 12, which allows non-utility energy consumers to buy and transmit power directly from renewable energy developers.

Bloom Energy makes solid oxide fuel cells, which are assembled by the thousands into an energy server or Bloom box. The parking space-size Bloom box converts fuel like natural gas or biogas into electricity. The fuel cell installation at eBay's data center will use biogas. Bloom Energy installed a 500-kilowatt fuel cell system that uses biogas at eBay's headquarters in San Jose, Calif., in 2010.

Three months ago, Bloom Energy launched a new business division to take advantage of the skyrocketing demand for energy-intensive data centers. Bloom Energy is the fuel cell provider for a nearly 5-MW installation at Apple's $1 billion data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

Photo: Bloom Energy

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure