Energy storage is often called the holy grail of renewable energy. The problem with the "grail" language is that the grail was never located. At least not with a compelling business case.

There is a lot to report from this week's Energy Storage Association meeting, and the approximately 400 engineers, developers, researchers, and utility experts it attracted to Santa Clara, California. This is the kickoff article in a series of energy storage articles. GTM's Jeff St. John attended and has already written about energy storage pioneer AES' integration software and a related move to standardization and plug-and-play batteries from software vendor 1Energy.

I've attended this event over the years. Grid-scale energy storage, which is this event's focus, is still a developing market, and the exhibition floor reveals a market and supply chain still very much in formation.

But, despite the early stage of this industry and its players, I would suggest that the energy storage industry took a noticeable step forward this year. Instead of technical papers on electrolytes, anodes, and hysteresis, the panels and hallway chatter were dominated by:

  • Lessons learned from energy storage pilots and initial commercial deployments
  • Integrating energy storage with solar and wind and connecting to the grid
  • The necessity for big data analytics to effectively shave peak and smooth renewable generation
  • The need for standards, modeling, software integration and cybersecurity awareness

Confronting these issues, rather than running a technology love-fest, is indicative of an industry coming to grips with its place in the energy ecosystem.

It's been slow going, but the pilot programs are yielding information. Equipment crews at vendors and utilities are gaining experience at deploying substation-sited storage, co-locating with renewables, as well as in domains such as community energy storage and residential energy storage. Regulators at the state and federal levels are listening. And the case studies are starting to show some actual monetizable value from energy storage.

The "behind the meter" energy storage firms such as Stem, Demand Energy, and Silent Power are beginning to post their compelling case studies.  We'll be profiling those firms, as well as SolarCity, Isentropic Energy, Beacon Power and many others in the coming days. Stay tuned; there's a lot to cover. 

In the meantime, here are a few stray observations:

  • Solar is interested in storage; First Solar and SunPower technologists were in attendance.
  • I did not see a single VC investor at the event. And I couldn't find one on the attendee list, either. Are VCs done with energy storage? Vinod Khosla did not show.
  • Darrell Hayslip was named the next Chair of ESA. Hayslip headed the development of the the 36-megawatt storage system for Xtreme Power at the Duke Notrees Windpower project.
  • The two largest installers of on-grid residential and consumer energy storage in California are not pure-play energy storage firms. Who are they?