Q&A With James Greenberger: Top Trends & New Innovations In Energy Storage

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By Wes Doane, Event Director, Intersolar North America

Over the past few years, rapid solar industry growth has powered the innovation and utilization of energy storage. Noticing the increasing integration and emerging complementary opportunities, the Intersolar North America* team made a conscious decision to incorporate energy storage more fully into our 2020 event content—and you can be sure that we’re keeping an eye out for what’s yet to come.

To this end, we recently spoke with James Greenberger. As the Executive Director of NAATBatt International, he’s uniquely qualified to predict the top trends and new innovations in energy storage—and how the industry will intersect with solar. Read an excerpt of part one of our interview to learn more.

James Greenberger

Q: Can you start by telling us about NAATBatt’s work?

NAATBatt is the trade association for the advanced battery supply chain in North America. Our members manufacture batteries and components used in advanced batteries for use in advanced vehicle technology, stationary energy storage, and other battery applications in the North American market.

We were founded in 2007 at the request of then-Senator Barack Obama, who wanted to make sure that the one million electric vehicles he wanted to put on the road would be powered by lithium-ion batteries made in the United States. NAATBatt was formed out of that initiative, and continues in its mission to promote the use, development, and manufacturing of advanced battery technology in North America. We provide a unique platform for our members to network, get market intelligence, and build their businesses.

Q: What is the top trend you’re watching in energy storage?

The principal trend that is driving everything in the field is the rapidly declining cost of lithium-ion battery technology. Using batteries to power vehicles and store electric energy on the grid were once thought to be completely uneconomic propositions. But today, in many circumstances, using batteries to perform these functions is not only possible, but offers advantages over the incumbent technologies of fossil fuel generation and internal combustion.

We still have a long way to go, but it is quite reasonable to expect that the prices of lithium-ion batteries will continue to fall. The downward price trajectory of lithium-ion technology continues to confound many projections that the price would plateau or even reverse. What has happened instead is that the ingenuity scientists, engineers, and manufacturers have continued to innovate in hundreds (if not thousands) of small but significant ways — continuing to push lithium-ion battery prices down and energy density up. I see no reason why these micro-innovations — joined, perhaps, by a few macro-innovations in lithium-ion technology — will not continue through the next decade.

Q: What trends do you predict to have major consequences on the industry in the next 3-5 years?

I think there will be a continued emphasis on and questions about the safety of storage technology. There was a very unfortunate incident this spring in Arizona, where there was a fire at a stationary energy storage facility operated by Arizona Public Services (APS) that injured four people. We are still waiting for the results of the investigation to determine what exactly caused the fire and what actions should be taken going forward. But this event presents an opportunity to review best practices for safety in energy storage systems and lithium-ion batteries. I believe it will give rise to a systematic approach to safety at stationary storage systems. That is a good and healthy thing.

Within the next couple months, the New York Fire Department is expected to issue regulations for the deployment of stationary energy storage systems in NYC. We expect those regulations to be highly influential in the development of stationary energy storage safety regulations around the country. NYC will be the first municipality to determine how energy storage can be placed and used in a dense urban environment. That’s important because dense urban areas are an ideal place for stationary energy storage. There are often restrictions or constraints on the amount of power you can wheel into a dense urban area at times of peak demand. The ability to store energy locally within the city at times of low demand and discharge it at times of high demand—rather than wheel it in from the outside through a constrained and aging infrastructure—could prove to be a real benefit. Storing electricity in major urban areas using battery energy storage promises to be a very profitable opportunity for the energy storage industry, so long as it can be done safely.

I think the APS and New York Fire Department reports will provide real color for what’s going to happen in the industry over the next year or two. I expect those reports will provide direction to energy storage developers as to what they need to do to address the safety concerns that continue to challenge lithium-ion battery technology.

Predicting the Next Big Storage Innovation

Rounding out our conversation on energy storage trends, we also asked James what he thinks will be the next big innovation in energy storage—the emerging technologies that could significantly impact safety regulations. Want to learn more? Read part one of our interview in full — and stay tuned for part two, where we explore how companies can harness new business from unlocking mainstream solar and energy storage.

About the Author: 

Wes Doane is the Event Director of Intersolar North America. Focused on B2B event sales and management, Wes has deep expertise in the solar + energy storage and finance and accounting industries. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children, and still finds time to surf once or twice a year.

This article was sponsored by Intersolar North America; CleanTechnica is a media partner for the coming event in February 2020 in San Diego, California.


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