Zigs and Zags on the Path to Lower Carbon Energy

A lot of the discussion about the new “Bloom Energy Server,” which is having its 15 minutes of fame, is of the binary “is it or isn’t it” flavor. David Douglas has a more nuanced view of the way in which what happened here is an example of the sort of path forward me might see in the development of new energy technology:

It starts with the US government (as many interesting technologies do), who needed a better way to create oxygen on NASA missions. While this fuel-cell design didn’t meet those needs, K.R. Sridhar, now CEO of Bloom, realized that the fuel cell could also use oxygen as a source and be a potentially interesting source of electricity. Enter Kleiner-Perkins and the venture capital community to fund the effort, followed by key silicon valley innovators looking to try something new to lower their power bills and green their energy supply. Finally, the federal government, accompanied by the State of California, returns to the picture with incentives that help make the technology cost competitive during the early phase as it ramps up.

Douglas also makes the important point that we shouldn’t get too hung up on failures as we head this direction:

Its also important to recognize that, despite its Hollywood feel, this story wasn’t pre-scripted. Things fell into place as the story unfolded, and at each stage there could have been unforeseen roadblocks that stopped the story before the happy ending. In other words, we’ll have to be willing to let lots of these stories play out, understanding that not all will end happily. This is especially important for the federal government’s role, which needs to be repeated in some form in every one of these stories.