Build a Better Battery, Become a Billionaire

I’ve been saying for years, to anyone who will listen (so, to Richard), that whoever manages to build cost-effective, large-scale battery technology will become filthy rich. One of the biggest challenges utilities have traditionally faced is dealing with fluctuations in demand. In the past, it seems you could solve this generally by using large, inefficient, expensive to power up/down coal plants to supply a fairly consistent baseload, and then adjust to meet peak load demand with a combination of other more flexible resources, often including natural gas.

As renewable energy sources have come to occupy an increasing share of power production, the overall variability in the availability of power has increased, with frequently deleterious results. Germany is seeing this play out on a national level and Washington State has suffered similar problems in recent years. Current methods of storing excess energy involve using the surplus to pump water uphill and shunt rail cars uphill, and then releasing them to turn turbines when demand picks up. It’s an elegant approach, but one has to wonder about its widespread feasibility.

With an efficient, affordable, appropriately-sized battery, the problem of excess renewable energy largely evaporates. So it was reassuring to see The Atlantic include battery technology as an area to watch in the November issue. It does rather torpedo my venture capital plans though, as it looks like the secret is definitely out.