Softbank, Bloom Energy take Off-Grid to Corporate Japan

Softbank and Bloom Energy fuel cells
Corporates get off-grid, so when will the rest of us?
TOKYO (Nikkei)–Softbank Corp. (9984) will team up with a U.S. fuel cell developer to provide the off-grid power source to corporate clients in Japan, company sources said Wednesday.

A 50-50 joint venture set up by Softbank and Bloom Energy Corp. will launch the business as early as this fall, targeting firms, hospitals and public facilities looking to diversify power supplies as part of their disaster preparedness plans.

The move comes as Japanese businesses pay growing attention to fuel cells as an alternative electricity source with a relatively low cost, as established big utilities rush to raise rates.

Customers will be offered long-term contracts for a bundled service that includes large stationary Bloom fuel cells installed at client sites, gas fuel supplies and maintenance. Each fuel cell system provides 200kw of power, enough to meet the needs of 500 typical households.

The expense of the fuel cells will be spread over the life of the contract of roughly 20 years, eliminating start-up costs. Fuel cells generate power more efficiently than fossil-fuel plants, so the long contracts are expected to make prices lower than the rates of conventional utility providers.

To promote the business, the joint venture — in which Softbank and the Sunnyvale, California-based firm each invested 1 billion yen — will install a Bloom fuel cell in a Softbank office in Fukuoka.

Bloom fuel cells have been used by Google Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Honda Motor Co.’s (7267) U.S. units, among other clients. According to research firm Fuji Keizai Co., Japan’s fuel cell market is projected to expand nearly eightfold to around 350 billion yen in 2020 from 2012.

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