NEWS: Energy Storage and Its Discontents

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Jun 5, 2015 11:33:00 AM


Unless you have been getting your energy trade news from the undersides of rocks recently, you know energy storage is a hot topic. The U.S. alone deployed 5.8 MW of energy storage in Q1, and GTM Research sees U.S. energy storage on track to break records in 2015. This week Navigant Research released its Leaderboard Report on Energy Storage Systems Integrators, which included RES Americas and Stem, both AEE member companies. Predictions of 250 percent growth in the storage market this year aside, does storage really deserve all the hype? Some critics are telling everybody, Elon Musk included, to cool their jets.

After Musk unveiled Tesla’s newest initiative, Powerwall, a home battery that stores energy generated by rooftop solar and allows users to draw on that energy when demand and utility rates are highest, much of the tech and energy media worked themselves into a lather. T.C. Sottek, writing for The Vergecalled Musk’s speech introducing the technology “the best tech keynote I’ve ever seen.” While not everyone sang a paean, the positive coverage spanned The New York TimesL.A. TimesWall Street Journaland every other major publication you can name.

Others contained their enthusiasm. Jeff St. John at Greentech Media wrote a post headlined, “How Tesla’s Energy Storage Play Could Take Flight—or Flop.” And Tom Randall, writing for Bloomberg, cautioned that the Powerwall “doesn’t work that well with solar—at least not yet.”

That didn’t seem to matter to the early adopters. Powerwall is sold out for the foreseeable future, generating $800 million for the company the first week it was taking orders. “Tesla is already building a 5-million-square-foot battery factory,” Randall wrote for Bloomberg, referencing the company’s upcoming Reno Gigafactory. “It's not big enough.” In an article just last week, however, Randall cautioned, “while the pairing of home batteries with solar power makes deeply intuitive sense, the problem is that it doesn’t make financial sense. Not now, not anytime soon, and definitely not in the U.S.”

Musk’s response? “That doesn’t mean people won’t buy it.” (Leave it to Musk to pair blind optimism with blunt reality.) 

There are places, though, where public policy and consumer needs are pointing to a more favorable market for energy storage. GTM Research identified “five states where energy storage could thrive”: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington. Meanwhile, in California, a utility storage mandate passed in 2013 is creating a market right now. Last week we reported that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of California’s leading utilities, closed on 74 MW worth of storage projects, and, according to Greentech Media, had 5,000 MW worth of bids. Advanced Microgrid Systems, which partnered with Southern California Edison last year for a 50 MW storage contract, today announced a contract with Tesla to install the company's batteries at utility installations in southern California. Outside of California, another huge power player, Duke Energy, installed 4MW of battery storage at a retired coal power plant in Ohio.

And what about outside the U.S.? Giles Parkinson, writing for Greentech Media, called the unveiling of Powerwall “Australia’s iPhone moment.” Home battery systems could be a total game changer for a country already rife with rooftop solar systems. Meanwhile, solar + storage is making waves in parts of Africa and India, two markets with, frankly, staggeringly large advanced energy potential. 

Back stateside, let’s face it, as goes Walmart, so goes the nation. In a recent AEE webinar, David Ozment, Walmart’s director of energy, described the company’s approach of combining energy efficiency measures with on-site renewable energy production. Walmart has nearly 300 rooftop solar arrays deployed across the country, and is currently testing energy storage devices using non-Powerwall Tesla batteries right now. “No single solution will take care of our energy needs,” he said, but energy storage pulls together several technologies. Showing how this is done could make Walmart just the hero energy storage needs. 

AEE's recent webinar, Not Taking 'No' For An Answer: How Microsoft and Walmart Overcame Barriers and Got the Renewable Energy They Wanted” features Ozment and Microsoft's director of energy strategy, Brian Janous. Stream the full webinar by clicking the button below.

View the Webinar

Topics: News Update



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