Energy storage represents one of the largest markets in greentech. It is also one of the least developed. In this perspective arranged by EnerG2, Jay Inslee, the Democratic Congressional Representative from Washington, and Michael Butler, co-founder of Cascadia Capital, explain how the U.S. both needs energy storage and how it could take the lead in developing it.

Energy Storage and America's New Energy Economy by Rep. Jay Inslee

This is a busy season for policymakers who are concerned with energy and climate change. In Washington, D.C., Congress is in the process of considering new legislative initiatives that would help reduce our carbon footprint. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Copenhagen, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in just a few weeks in an effort to help set global standards for greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter what happens in Washington and Copenhagen, however, we must remain focused on America's clean-energy future. And that future – which must start now – will create economic value and jobs, enhance our national security and protect the environment.

Building a clean and economically beneficial energy system in our country will require the most innovative energy storage technologies possible. Many of these technologies are currently available, and some are still in the R&D phase. But each one deserves serious consideration and, going forward, they probably should be used in combination for the best results.

Private capital has been an enormous catalyst in driving the energy storage revolution thus far. But the government can – and must – join in and play a powerful role in the advancement of these critical technologies if America is to reach its clean-energy goals in the transportation, manufacturing and utilities sectors of the economy.

The public sector is already doing its part, offering fiscally responsible loan guarantees and funding programs designed to help encourage energy-storage innovation take root in the marketplace and take hold in our lives.

Where appropriate and when necessary, other government tools must be developed and implemented to bolster and boost our progress in energy storage – including R&D investment tax credits, additional infrastructure investments, national net-metering and interconnection standards, meaningful renewable electricity standards, incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, and workable market-based carbon limit, such as the one found in the American Clean Energy Security Act that was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this year.

The world is changing rapidly, and after generations of fixating on energy supply – finding ever-increasing amounts of fossil fuels to stimulate our economy – we are now focusing on efficiently managing energy demand.

That's where energy storage comes in, and where energy storage becomes central to our nation's new energy economy. 

As a citizen and publicly elected official, I am determined to work hard and collaboratively within the public and private sectors to make this bold idea a constructive reality. It is essential to our future in this country.

Jay Inslee is a Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1st Congressional District, Washington state, 1999–Present.

The New Storage Economy by Michael Butler

1. Why Is Energy Storage So Essential to the New Energy Economy?

A sweeping transportation transformation is under way in the energy storage sector, and that it must go much further and faster if we are to protect America's national, economic, and environmental security. At the epicenter of this commercial earthquake, however, are cutting edge batteries and energy storage technologies. Without them, we run the risk of remaining stuck in the petroleum era – a dangerous place for a nation that aspires to long-term prosperity in the 21st century.

2. What Is the Most Important Use or Implementation of Energy Storage?

Very few storage technologies have actually reached the scalable commercial deployment phase, so we're not fully aware of the portfolio of possibilities – and the market isn't feeling the true impact of these innovations yet. Several companies produce lithium-ion batteries, for example, but utilities have only begun to experiment with them for balancing loads or storing power. And General Electric (GE) just jumped into the market for sodium batteries, computer-sized batteries that can store large amounts of power at wind farms.

The real issue, though, is that huge battery market growth – driven by hybrid vehicles and renewable energy – will need to be paced by improved battery performance.

It's also important to note that advanced battery-centric solutions may not be able to deliver on their full promise and potential. So, we also need to look beyond batteries, to a combination of available and efficient next-generation energy storage technologies that can help us reach our commercial and environmental goals.

3. Which Energy Storage Innovation Do You Most Believe In?

What really inspires me is the wide range of advanced battery innovation that's taking place at universities from coast to coast. Scientists at MIT, for instance, have developed a battery technology that may soon allow people to charge their cell phones in several seconds or a drained plug-in car battery in only a few minutes. These next-stage ultrafast charging batteries could also help electric cars accelerate and quickly stabilize the electricity grid, absorbing or releasing power to smooth out supply and demand fluctuations. And, because the MIT technology is based on an existing type of battery, it might be able to reach the commercial marketplace faster than one made of a different material.

Michael Butler is Chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital, LLC, a national investment-banking firm that is financing the future for a wide range of companies in sustainable industries.