Investors cannot wait for storage ‘big bang’


February 8, 2016

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Let’s stop waiting for a breakthrough year for energy storage. We didn’t get one in 2015, we won’t get one in 2016, and we won’t get one in 2017. It just won’t happen.

Now hear us out. We know how crucial energy storage is for the wind and solar sectors. One of the last big criticisms of wind farms is that they cannot generate energy when it is needed, and breakthroughs in energy storage will help to fix that. We get that.

Our problem is that a lot of wind investors seem to be waiting for a single ‘big bang’ moment before they start adding storage to their schemes. More of them need to get involved now.

You see, we like to view energy storage as a Holy Grail, but it isn’t actually that special. It is like most other sorts of technology. It evolves gradually and we think it is unlikely there will be one moment when the technology leaps ahead and it suddenly makes sense for investors. Even Apple’s groundbreaking iPhone was the result of the company evolving the iPod.

And this is why we need more firms in the wind sector to invest in the technology now. Not all of them will back the best types of storage — but all of them can help us to learn more.

That is why we are happy to see a diverse set of high-profile wind firms looking to invest in storage. In December, Deepwater Wind and GE announced that they are planning an offshore wind farm with storage; E.On and Samsung set up a storage joint venture; and they joined the likes of Enel Green Power and Siemens that are already active in storage. All of this work may look piecemeal, but it should all play a key role in making wind-plus-storage viable.

Wind can also learn from solar, which has a slight lead in the rollout of energy storage.

The main reason that solar-plus-storage is ahead is that the technology now exists to both generate solar power at a domestic level and store it.

Last year, Tesla founder Elon Musk launched his home battery storage system Powerwall, and this enables homeowners with solar panels on their roof to store energy generated by those panels. In fact, last week he teased the launch with a second-gen version of the technology. Making and storing power in the home
is a crucial step to rolling out the systems on larger schemes.

Wind does not have that. Domestic solar has grown far quicker than domestic wind, and that means there are fewer opportunities to pair up storage with small wind schemes. As storage becomes able to deal with larger schemes then wind will surely catch up.

And this is why we need more large wind companies to make high-profile investments in storage.

It will help to develop storage technology that is suitable for wind farms, which is crucial to ensuring the long-term health of the wind sector; and it will help to demolish the arguments of those whose main criticism of wind farms is that they are unreliable.

There will not be a big storage breakthrough in 2016 that proves unequivocally that wind has solved its issues with storage, and investors should not wait for one. Rather, they should support the continual small breakthroughs that are helping edge wind towards the best solutions.

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