Energy Storage: The Holy Grail of Our Energy Revolution?

Green battery car on the lawn
Green battery car on the lawn

Pairing "Holy Grail" with "energy storage" is becoming as common a combination as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. At New York's Advanced Energy 2013 Conference this week, where I was one of the speakers, the term was bandied about with great enthusiasm. Three years ago, when I started my journey in this industry the only "Holy Grail" I knew about it was in a Monty Python movie. Today, it is difficult to find a clean tech analyst or "green" conference that doesn't wax poetic about "energy storage as the Holy Grail."

At the Advanced Energy 2013 in New York this week, Garry Brown, Chairman of the NY State Public Service Commission, did it again when he introduced our energy storage panel which, along with me, was comprised of representatives from General Electric, Toshiba and AES Energy Storage. With a wide variety of energy topics covered over the two days by dozens of panels, it was no coincidence that our panel was clearly one of the best attended. Everyone is looking to energy storage as a complete or partial solution to a vast number of issues: renewable integration, cold storage, frequency regulation, spinning reserve, micro-grid, UPS, peak shaving, and many more.

Maybe it is the Holy Grail, given all the recent headlines including this one that just popped up on my Google alert as was writing this blog: Solar PV Energy Storage Market To Skyrocket which described a new report from IMS Research that expects the market will grow from under $200 million in 2012 to $19 billion by 2017. This report followed a number of other recent prognostications: Grid-Scale Energy Storage: Lux Predicts $113.5B Global Demand By 2017 and The Energy Storage Market Quadruples in Five Years.

Part 1 of my answer: On the macro level, no, it isn't quite the Holy Grail. Largely, it is an honest overstatement borne out of the surprisingly sudden and mass realization that energy storage has irreplaceable value in the energy value chain. Earnest researchers and developers have been working on their battery technologies for years, largely in the dark. And suddenly the spotlight was switched on.

Part 2: On the micro level, energy storage clearly is the Holy Grail. As we are introducing our energy storage solution to America, we are following the time-tested sales strategy of finding initial customers -- i.e., find those with the most pain. And that is becoming pretty straightforward as they seem to be finding us first. It is the Holy Grail for those in the renewable energy generation side, where for years the goal was simply to build as much PV and wind turbines as possible with little to no regard for the fact that Mother Nature doesn't produce energy exactly when it is needed.

The renewable developers aren't seeing the financial return from their heavy investments. They can still be hit with high energy costs as the sun is already going down when the grid determines the peak charge. They aren't able to capture the financial benefit of generating energy at night with the wind turbines and using it when their plants are open. Microgrids still have high diesel charges as renewables haven't been able to move diesel to the back-up role.

Now there is a broad consensus that storage can be that Holy Grail for some. Unfortunately, since the market hasn't placed a value on energy storage until very recently, most battery technologies are still not ready on a broad commercial scale -- with a few notable exceptions. And, as with all new technological advancements, the early production generally means higher cost.

But those with the most pain are finding their energy storage solutions, and reaping the financial benefit, even in these early days of the energy storage market.

So, is energy storage the Holy Grail? A resounding yes -- to some.