One of the  hottest topics in clean tech is storage.  To date there has been no economically compelling storage solution, but the hope remains that one is on the horizon, and one that will make distributed or customer-site storage installations and electric vehicles even a better choice.  One source put the global market for distributed storage solutions at $2 billion per year now, and able to grow over 33% per year if certain breakthroughs are achieved. That would mean a $10 billion market in 5 years, not even coutning electric vehicles.   We had an awesome discussion of the potentials and perils of this market at our Clean Tech MeetUp on March 29.  The MeetUp was held at Coffee and Coworking, a cool new space on Broadway near the UCD Med Center, hosted by owner Gagan Johal.  Three speakers got the crowd going–Gregg Fishman, SMUD Board Vice President, Deepak Aswani, Senior Engineer from SMUD, and Bob Gregory from Electra Vehicles.  While the CPUC has mandated the investor-owned utilities to contract for over 1300 MW of storage, that mandate did not apply to SMUD. The crowd was glad to hear that SMUD shortly will be opening a process to acquire 9 MW of customer-side storage in the near term, and increasing that to 75 MW if all goes well.  There’s business opportunity locally! Deepak also laid out some trends on how battery costs have been declining, and documented some estimates of how those trends might continue. Steady progress has seen these costs decline every year, but not as rapidly as solar panel costs plunged, nor is such a plunge about to happen. Bob Gregory made a good case for combining supercapacitors and batteries in a single package to bridge the problem that a good storage solution needs to be able to deliver high power quickly but then have lots of energy stored to provide duration and range.  His point was that, while some startups are trying to get batteries that inherently can do both, their problems of heat dissipation and limited life, it is better to use supercapacitors to do what they do best–discharge quickly–and lithium ion batteries to what they do best–provide lots of storage that can be withdrawn slowly.   There were lots of other topics covered–how utility rates may need to change to reflect full value for installed storage, how the peak and off-peak prices are likely to change over time as storage is installed, whether storage could also lead to avoided system expansion costs, among others.   This MeetUp probably had the liveliest Q&A of all such events we have put on so far.   We were glad to hear from some of the attendees that our MeetUps are the best thing going in elevating the visibility and understanding of clean tech and clean tech companies in our region.  If you haven’t taken advantage of one of these sessions, you really should try to join us at one in the future. They really are quite fun–and educational.
Thomas Hall
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.