The New Energy Sweet Spot Is Storage

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- During the last decade Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president and now partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, toured the country touting what he called the "smart grid" -- an electric grid as decentralized as the Internet, where blackouts would be a thing of the past.

There is still not much "intelligence" in the electric grid. We still have three mega-grids -- one for the east, one for the west, and one for Texas. Earthly Issues has a great collection of maps illustrating all this.

But as the amount of solar and wind energy on the grid continues to increase, we are getting closer to what Gore was talking about through simple energy storage.

A mild-mannered Department of Energy official named Imre Gyuk is leading the charge. I saw him in Atlanta earlier this year, where he said that for every five watts of energy being placed on our electric system, we need at least one watt stored in order to eliminate the $79 billion presently lost to blackouts each year in this $250 billion market.

Gyuk helped work on FERC 890, a Department of Energy rule meant to assure that utilities pay a fair price for storage, and that storage companies be given a functional business model.

The result is what I call a "sweet spot" in the market, of which companies such as General Electric ( GE) are starting to take advantage. Its latest wind turbines have energy storage built in and are already being installed in Texas.

Demand for storage can be pushed as well as pulled. With utilities like CPS Energy in San Antonio now seeking to end "net metering" and charge consumers with solar installations for access to their grids, companies like SolarCity ( SCTY) are responding by adding batteries to their solar systems.

The move toward storage is going to accelerate as new technologies become available. Gyuk told me Bill Gates is personally investing in three separate storage companies. The University of Illinois is working on nanobatteries that should dramatically increase storage, and we haven't even mentioned graphene, a supercapacitor that can be made with a simple DVD burner, as IO9 reports.

This matters for more than renewable energy.

As U.S. factories become increasingly computer-controlled, with three-dimensional printing installed at multiple locations, the cost of even a brief electric outage goes up. You know what happens when you're printing a file and the electric system spikes? Now imagine that happening to a factory, or a data center.

All of this makes storage the sweet spot in today's energy business. If you have a mass storage solution, you can get paid for it. Your need for one is only going to increase as computers require dependable power to keep going.

With the U.S. grid now selling almost 300 billion gigawatt-hours each month, as the Energy Information Agency notes, from an increasingly diverse set of sources, this sweet spot is only going to get sweeter.

At the time of publication, the author was long GE.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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