While the market for viable energy storage is dependent on regulatory and financial market structures as well as technology, it would be helpfule to have a disruptive, cheap, and safe electrochemical storage technology -- one that had superior performance and management characteristics compared to the predominant lithium-ion materials system.

Aquion believes it has that technology, and the startup just picked up a $15 million loan facility from Horizon Technology Finance Corporation and Silicon Valley Bank to build its business.

Aquion's battery consists of an anode made of activated carbon, a cathode made from sodium and magnesium oxide, and a water-based electrolyte. The firm wants to build a factory with a capacity of 500 megawatt-hours' worth of batteries a year in 2013 and 2014. The plan is to build it in the U.S. in 2015, with the goal of replicating that factory in other parts of the world.

Aquion's batteries are for utility-scale applications and look to provide two to six hours of storage. The batteries can endure 5,000+ charging cycles with an 85 percent (DC) efficiency. Kleiner Perkins and Foundation Capital are investors with $20 million injected into the company in a financing round in 2011. The battery is based on the research of Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jay Whitacre.          

As we've reported, when it comes to storage, "It's not a technical problem. Utilities are rational actors trying to run a system at the right cost. [...] It comes down to cost," said Steve Berberich, the CEO of California's Independent System Operator, concluding, "It's good stuff, but it's expensive and we have to find business cases."   

So, Aquion and the many new battery firms have to hone their technology, but just as importantly, they have to hone their value proposition.

Other new utility-scale energy storage companies include the Khosla-funded compressed air firm LightSail Energy and the flow battery firms Primus Power and EnerVault. Another energy storage firm, Stem, is looking into the enterprise sector with a "cloud-based energy optimization solution that reduces peak electrical usage, lowers electrical bills, and eliminates the need for new generation facilities." That looks like an example of finding a business case rather than a savior technology.