Byline: Fareed Zakaria
The CEO of Bloom Energy on a new way of powering the planet.
K. R. Sridhar spent years building technologies for NASA that could sustain life on Mars. Now, as CEO of Bloom Energy, he's trying to perfect a device that could improve life on Earth. His company builds fuel cells--small power plants, essentially, that can power anything from a single home to a whole city. NEWSWEEK International editor Fareed Zakaria spoke with him about these "Bloom boxes," which convert gas, biomass, and other fuels into electricity. Excerpts:
Tell me about your transition from working on the Mars mission to this.
It became obvious to me that on Mars, if you give me a few molecules of oxygen, I can create everything else human beings need: fuel, heat, electricity, plastic, food, water. So I started looking for someplace where I can make an impact in a realistic time frame, as opposed to something far in the future. It dawned on me that if we don't solve the energy issue, we will have significant problems.
Why is Bloom so important in terms of the future of energy?
Look at what distributive computing did to computing. We wouldn't have millions of software engineers if computing relied purely on mainframe computers hooked up to dumb terminals. Why? Too expensive. Access is limited to the privileged. Distributive power is real democracy.
So this is really a big bet on the power of decentralization?
Absolutely. If you go to Google or Microsoft or Amazon, they all have huge data centers. Inside, there are actually small servers ganged up in groups of hundreds and thousands. Our fuel cells are exactly the same thing. I can cluster our energy servers and build an energy farm. Or I can take the same technology to a little village and create a microgrid.
But you still need to get the fuel from a centralized source.
That is true today. But the same technology I am using today to turn chemical energy, like natural gas, into electrons, can be used with an intermittent source, like solar or wind.
But don't you need to then store the energy somewhere?
Think of it as being able to spin in two directions. In one direction, I take the solar energy during the day, and I break water up into …