Here's a little story that might back up the claim that the "breakout year" of energy storage is upon us.
Last week, I dragged myself to the breakfast session of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. A surprisingly swift G train (followed by an uncomfortably packed 7 train) got me there at about 7:30 a.m. The panel I planned to attend, one on the state of the energy storage industry, was slated to start 15 minutes later, so I checked my coat and made myself a cup of tea.
I was lucky I got there five minutes later. The fairly large conference room was so packed full of people -- many wearing lanyards with tags emblazoned with the names of the world's biggest banks -- that I was forced to stand in the back, shoulder-to-shoulder with two other attendees. At least half a dozen people, if not more, simply couldn't get in the room.
I was surprised.
It's not easy to get people to care about energy storage. Even among those who care deeply about climate change, and find the pursuit of a future powered by clean energy a righteous cause, eyes glaze over as when you start diving into batteries and chemical storage. Tesla's release of the Powerwall battery last year generated some interest, thanks in no small part to the Midas quality of Elon Musk's celebrity touch. But beyond that, it remains a fringe topic.
Yet energy storage is a necessary component to making the fastest-growing forms of renewable energy -- solar and wind -- economical on a mass utility scale. Effective storage for the excess power produced throughout the day by the sun, for instance, could help big utility companies wean themselves off peaking power plants. Nicknamed "peakers" by industry professionals, these antiquated coal- or gas-burning plants are fired up to offset the demand for electricity during peak hours. Energy storage could make them obsolete, reducing the total number of carbon-spewing power plants in the world.
Now, it may be come time before the industry becomes mainstream. Even then, the idea that energy storage could become a serious concern for consumers seems somewhat far-fetched, considering the average person probably couldn't explain where their electricity comes from in the first place. Of course, there's sample bias in this anecdote. The conference, after all, was focused on "the future of energy." The epitome of an echo chamber.
That said, consider the other side of that same coin. These are the people in the know. And many of them represent some of the deepest-pocketed financial institutions in the world. And, as with anything of importance to the future of human civilization, it's smart to follow the money.