By San Francisco Business Times

Hyped fuel cell maker Bloom Energy said Thursday itâ¿¿s offering purchase agreements â¿¿ much like those that have driven explosive growth in the solar industry â¿¿ to fuel cell customers, allowing those customers to buy power produced from fuel cells without paying upfront or additional costs.

WalMart (NYSE: WMT), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS), Kaiser Permanente, and the California Institute of Technology are among the fuel-cell makersâ¿¿growing list of high-profile customers.

Bloom Energy, based in Sunnyvale, produces fuel cells or generators that convert fuel like natural gas or biogas into electricity through a chemical reaction.

The company said its purchase agreements allow customers to pay a fixed cost for electricity, discounted by up to 20 percent from utility prices, over 10 years.

Bloom Energy is backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates and other venture capital firms. It emerged from an 8-year-long stealth period in early 2010, announcing it had raised $400 million. General Collin Powell is on the board.

Kaiser Permanente is purchasing power from 4 megawatts of fuel cells it will install at seven Southern California facilities. The fuel cells will reduce the hospital systemsâ¿¿ use of fossil fuels at those facilities by 34 percent.

Kaiser said earlier this month that it had deployed the first system in what will eventually become 15 megawatts of solar systems on facility rooftops by the end of 2011.

The fuel cells and solar systems are part of a larger effort to diversify the energy mix at Kaiser, the company said.

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