It wasn't what
The company made an electrical storage system about the size of a refrigerator, a kind of technology that had the potential to solve one of the basic problems in the renewable energy business.
A cheap enough system to store energy for use when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine is one thing that's needed to make a renewable generation system truly work financially.
As of right now, however, an investment in a storage unit still doesn't quite pencil out, and
The proximate cause was its financial partner, the South Korean giant
"We all sort of knew renewables are intermittent. You know there are cloudy days, and the sun doesn't shine at night. It was just so obvious that you need storage," Frederick said of his first years at the company. "The question was how do you actually get started? What are the applications that can cost-justify themselves?"
Wind turbines spin most consistently at night, the sun's rays hit solar arrays the strongest at midday and power consumption peaks in late afternoon and early evening, when families turn on the air conditioners along with every light in the house and a TV or two.
Today the whole system of power generating stations and transmission lines has to be big enough to meet the peak demand on the hottest late afternoon of the summer. That's why, as Frederick explained,
It's worse than wasteful -- it's also dirty. During the summer of 2011 in
What if power could be efficiently stored when it was generated cheaply and cleanly, such as overnight with wind turbines, then used at peak consumption times?
The visionaries in the business talk about a storage system in every garage, with a solar array on the roof and wind turbine in the back yard to charge the plug-in electric car overnight in time for the morning commute. Connect to the grid only to sell power back to the power company.
There's been no shortage of enthusiasm for finding a storage solution. Things that have been tried include big spinning machines, compressed air and heated water. Research at
But with rhubarb batteries a ways off, what's common now are conventional batteries like the lithium-ion ones
These devices would sell, if only they didn't cost so much. A
There were more than 200 storage technology exhibitors at a big solar power trade show last summer in
Without much consumer demand,
He added, however, that many customers in the trial had "a great experience" and wanted to buy them anyway.
The most promising economic case was if the utility owned the storage units, to help drive down generation costs during periods of peak demand and to make its entire system more efficient.
Frederick said the studies, pilot programs and new regulatory requirements in key states like
"We would say that there was a lot of indication that the market really could start to see some volume toward the end of 2014," he said. "There's always obstacles, don't get me wrong, in any new market. But we can work through those."
Running out of money, of course, is a pretty sizable obstacle. Even though everybody has lost their job, and investors including many
He's optimistic he will find one.
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