PHOTOS: Bloom Energy Does the Tennessee Waltz

The city of Chattanooga in Southeast Tennessee has just a couple hundred thousand people, but it’s got one of the most advanced (and interesting) smart grid projects underway. And now, its utility has installed the quintessential cool greentech product: a Bloom Energy fuel cell.

Today Chattanooga’s municipal utility and communications company EPB tells us it has installed a 100-kW Bloom Box on its rooftop that will provide energy for its headquarters. An EPB spokesperson tells us it’s the first Bloom Energy fuel cell installed outside of California, where state subsidies have encouraged companies like Google (s GOOG) and eBay (s EBAY) to buy and install Bloom boxes on their campuses.

EPB’s Bloom Box uses natural gas (the Bloom boxes are only 100 percent renewable if they are using scarce biogas) and the energy from the Bloom box on the EPB building is routed directly into the electrical system of the building, replacing energy that would have been purchased through traditional generation.

The funding for the Bloom box, which can cost between $700,000 to $800,000, comes partly from a grant provided to Chattanooga’s National Center for Computational Engineering (SimCenter). EPB says the fuel cell project was developed by a group including Congressman Zach Wamp, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, SimCenter, EPB, the Tennessee Valley Authority, The Enterprise Center and Bloom Energy.

The Tennessee Bloom Energy project is similar to the ones being deployed by utilities in California. In April the California Public Utilities Commission approved a request from PG&E and Southern California Edison to install fuel cells from Bloom Energy and FuelCell Energy on campuses in California. PG&E plans to install a 200-kW fuel cell from Bloom Energy at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

The California utility fuel cell projects have been a touch controversial given administrative law judge Dorothy Duda initially recommended that the CPUC should reject the fuel cell projects saying it would cost: “[T]hree times the price paid to renewable generation.” But the utilities are looking at the fuel cell projects as trials and research and development for how to work with fuel cell technology, and likely EPB has the same attitude as the Calfornia utilities.

EPB is also in the process of building out a $200 million fiber network for the city’s residents that will offer Internet, phone, video and — in an unusual twist and one of the first of its kind — smart grid services. To help build that network EPB was awarded $111.57 million out of the smart grid stimulus funds.

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Images courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga EPB, and include Congressman Zach Wamp with KR Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, and Dr. Harry McDonald, holder of the Chair of Excellence in Computational Engineering at the National Center for Computational Engineering (SimCenter).