ClearEdge Wants To Put A Refrigerator-Sized Fuel Cell In Your House

If you have $60,000 to spare and like to show off to your neighbors, ClearEdge Power may have the product for you: a giant fuel cell that can power up your house or business, and perhaps take you entirely off the grid.

Bloom Energy burst onto the clean energy scene last year with the Bloom Energy Server (you know it as the Bloom Box), a so-called fuel cell "power plant in a box" that can run on natural gas, hydrogen, or biogas. Bloom has cornered the big business fuel cell market, with installations at eBay's headquarters, multiple AT&T sites, Adobe's headquarters, and more. But thus far, the company has stuck with large installations. ClearEdge Power, an Oregon-based startup that just raised $73.5 million in funding, is aiming to corner the small fuel cell installation market. The company's fuel cells might end up in a house near you.

Like Bloom, ClearEdge makes power cells. Users put natural gas into a fuel processing system, where it is converted to hydrogen, fed to a fuel cell, put through a chemical conversion, and turned into electrical power. But ClearEdge's cells also generate heat, which goes into a heat exchanger, where it can be used to generate hot water. The system can also use hydrogen or biogas as an input.

While Bloom's fuel cell systems cost between $700,000 and $800,000 and produce 500 to 700 KW of power, ClearEdge's systems retail for $56,000 (before tax incentives and rebates) and offer five KW of power, though you can string multiple units together if you need more. Customers can expect to have the system pay for itself within five to eight years. "We consider Bloom to be complementary technology," says Mike Upp, VP of Marketing at ClearEdge. Upp believes that ClearEdge doesn't have any major competitors at the moment.

ClearEdge began early production in 2009, and by mid-2010, the company was selling its fuel cells to high end residential customers in California, as well as to "light commercial applications," including hotels, restaurants, and schools. Since then, the company has installed over 100 systems—and it has a backlog of over 1,000 orders.

The company plans to use its latest round of funding (Upp declined to say how much the company has raised to date) to expand its sales and marketing operations—so expect to see more ClearEdge boxes soon.

Upp is optimistic that the fuel cells are about to break out of the early adopter stage and into the mainstream market in the next 12 months. "Not to knock solar, but to produce the same amount of heat and power that our system produces, instead of a 5 KW system, you would need a 26 to 30 KW solar system," says Upp. "We take 34 square feet to be installed, they take 3,200 square feet."

[Ed: We've issued some corrections about the heat generating capacity of the Bloombox (it has none) and the pricing and power generation capabilities of the ClearEdge.]

[Images: Top, Flickr user Matt Seppings; Bottom, ClearEdge Power]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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4 Comments

  • T. Raimondi

     Agree with Eric on the questionable calculations - What about the gas bill from this thing?  Its probably minimal but I think an even cleaner idea is to pull the hydrogen from water instead of using natural gas.  I have a feeling that hydrogen-removing technology from water isn't quite there yet.

  • Eric T

    I'm a little curious on the math for the payback model.  $60K over 8 years is $625/month.  That's a big damn power bill every month.  Between gas and electric don't most people average $250-$300/mo?

    On top of that what are the on going costs to run this system?  Yes it takes up less space, yes it seems to be more efficient than solar, but the costs have to be cut by 60%+ to make this feasible for mass adoption.

  • Stephen Denny

    If I'm not mistaken, Fuel Cell Energy up in Danbury CT is the company that is leading the grid support and higher end commercial markets in this area, so saying Bloom has "cornered the market" may be a bit ambitious.