Advances In Batteries Promise To Reinvent The Grid
Bloomberg Markets|August - September 2019

From sun-blessed Australia to medieval European cities, researchers are obsessing over energy storage—the key to the triumph of renewables over conventional fuels

David Stringer

It’s just a marketing gimmick. But it casts a spell. A pale orange-and-gold sunset bathes the macadamia plantations and avocado orchards that sweep down to Australia’s Byron Bay. The coming dusk is a cue for two sleek Tesla battery packs in the garage at Amileka, a secluded holiday villa nearby. They stir silently into action— powering the appliances in the five-bedroom home’s twin kitchens, recharging a $100,000-plus Model X SUV, driving a filter pump for an 18-meter swimming pool sparkling in the shade of a century-old native black bean tree.

From first light on this Southern Hemisphere autumn day, a bank of 33 rooftop solar panels has been capturing the sun’s energy. At times, the electricity is directed back to the local grid. But mostly it’s funneled into the garage and stored in Powerwall units, in the same type of rechargeable cells that fuel the automaker’s vehicles. The batteries—as tall as refrigerators, as thin as flat-screen TVs—will power this unusually energy-hungry villa deep into the evening.

But not all night. The solar array and batteries meet just half of Amileka’s average energy needs. So after a few hours, the 25-acre, $1,160-a-night miniresort that Tesla Inc. uses to promote its products must tap into the local electricity grid.

The photogenic demonstration on Australia’s eastern coast presents a vision of what some see as the most significant shift in the energy sector since the late 19th century: rechargeable batteries—in electric vehicles, homes, industrial plants, and power grids—that will make the transition to renewable energy possible.

The actual future of energy may be less postcard-worthy. It may look more like a fleet of electric school buses. And the end of utility companies as we know them.

BY 2050 SOLAR AND WIND will supply almost half the world’s electricity, bringing to an end an energy era dominated by coal and gas, according to forecasts by BloombergNEF, Bloomberg LP’s primary research service on energy transition.

It can’t happen without storage. The switch from an electricity system supplied by large fossil fuel plants that run virtually uninterrupted to a more haphazard mix of smaller, intermittent renewable sources needs energy storage to overcome two key hurdles: using power harvested during the day to supply peak energy demand in the evening and ensuring there’s power available even when the wind drops or the sun goes down.

“We think storage can be the leapfrog technology that’s really needed in a world that’s focused on dramatic climate change,” says Mary Powell, chief executive officer of Green Mountain Power Corp., a utility based in Colchester, Vt., that’s worked with Tesla to deploy more than 2,000 residential storage batteries. “It’s the killer app in a vision to move away from bulk delivery systems to a community-, home-, and business-based energy system.”

Utilities aren’t panicking yet. The prospect of large numbers of residential consumers moving fully off the grid is probably overstated, says Zak Kuznar, managing director of microgrid and energy storage development at Duke Energy Corp., a Charlotte-based utility that supplies electricity to more than 7.5 million customers in six American states. “If you are wanting to run your home just on solar and batteries,” he says, “from where the

“If you are wanting to run your home just on solar and batteries … it’s going to be tough. … At this point it’s pretty overstated” ​technology is today, it’s going to be tough. It’s something we are keeping an eye on, but at this point it’s pretty overstated.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG MARKETSView All

“I've Had to Think Differently”

IN SEPTEMBER, Jane Fraser shattered the financial industry’s ultimate glass ceiling when she was named the next chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc., one of the world’s three most important banks.

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

The Prodigy

Yoyo Chang turned a hunch born in an English high school cafeteria into a next-generation payments app backed by serious, well-heeled investors

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

The Fintech Revolution Is Finally Here— And So Are the Regulators

SPEAKING IN OCTOBER to his banking brethren at the world’s biggest payments confab—the annual Sibos conference— Jamie Dimon didn’t mince words.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

Opening Up

China’s entry into the WTO upended global manufacturing. Now it’s poised to disrupt the financial system— and the consequences could be just as dramatic and surprising

9 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

Global Finance Wants to Protect Its Culture. First, It Should Reform It

EVERYWHERE, the stewards of capitalism are in flux, grappling with the implications of a radically different future that’s set to play out from home offices, living rooms, and kitchen tables around the world.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

Tame Inflation Risks With These Hedging Strategies

FOR MANY INVESTORS in the U.S., high inflation may feel like a distant worry—an historical footnote from the 1970s or a problem of poorly run economies in emerging markets. But there are signs indicating that some investors are worried. Bloomberg can help you see how they’re hedging their portfolios and what you can do to prepare for a dramatic change in prices.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
October - November 2020

The Crisis Fighters

The Crisis Fighters Central bankers used to bail out financial institutions. In a world wracked by Covid-19, they’ve doled out almost $9 trillion, some of it to a motley cast of unlikely beneficiaries. Will it ever end?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Markets
October - November 2020

Using Growth Factors to Pick Investments in Equities and Bonds

IN LATE MARCH, the U.S. markets started their amazing recovery from the Covid-19 chaos and economic uncertainty.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
October - November 2020

Looking to Follow the Fed? Here's How to Find Key Data for That

CHAIR JEROME POWELL has repeatedly said the Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support economic activity.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
October - November 2020

China's Growth Story Isn't What It Seems

GROWING UP IN Bulgaria with the Soviet bloc crumbling around me, I knew from experience the communist gift for turning gold into dross.

5 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
October - November 2020