Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


2015 will be the International Year of Battery Technology

Tuesday 30 December 2014

For the past few years I've decided to declare each year to be something I think the world needs or is likely to see. It's not so much about the prediction but more about the likely focus that will benefit the world. So I'm declaring this year to be the International Year of Battery Technology

Okay, first the known facts:

  1. the world's population is growing;
  2. much of that population is trying to improve their lifestyles
  3. that likely means more electricity is required
  4. which spells problems for global warming with reliance on carbon intensive fuels like coal and oil
  5. and we're seeing signs of a changing behavioural shift in parts of the already developed world


Into that mix we can now begin to see the infiltration of technology developments upending incumbent ways of how societies around the world operate. The clues are all around us. First let's look at India and the rise in mobile phone usage. The incumbent model of telecommunications was that a Government or Private Telecoms firm would spend billions of dollars installing copper fibre to install phone line infrastructure. The Copper Industry were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of all those export sales into India.

Then mobile phones came along. And India jumped straight past the outdated technology and into mobile phone handsets, by-passing the costs, build time and fragility of the old model. The growth has been phenomenal and yet is just getting started - here's one article looking at growth and another that looks at the ever shrinking cost of purchasing a handset.

In Australia and other parts of the world we're seeing an increase in domestic consumers installing solar cells on their rooves to offset increase costs of power generation caused by an increased search for profits by power companies at a time when ageing infrastructure is getting more costly to maintain. Like other parts of the world, consumer incentives were used to kick start the drive for solar installation and yet despite subsequent removal of those subsidies, consumers continue to install them. The tipping point for Solar has been passed in Australia - and that's not the tipping point for sheer numbers of homes with Solar, but the psychological tipping point for consumers to want them regardless of incentives like 'feed in tariff' rates. In Australia it is now possible for a family to install a solar panel array at a cheaper cost than to upgrade to the latest smart TV. At that cost, any Government incentive is mostly irrelevant, especially as the payback time is under five years, and shrinking as this article by Choice magazine suggests.

On the commercial front, we're also seeing signs of companies installing large scale arrays to generate their own power. Hilton Manufacturing in Australia have installed the largest dual array solar system in the southern hemisphere to power their large manufacturing plant, Google is well known for pursuing green power and this Morgan Stanley report suggests that going 'off grid' and becoming energy self sufficient is in sight for many in the US. But whilst we see the shifts for energy to home or workplace it is the automotive space that drives the International Year of Battery Technology

Tesla Motors in the US has garnered significant attention not just because they've built an electric vehicle, but because the car they've built is a luxury vehicle of impeccable standards. And yet it is not the car that will be the major leverage, it is the Battery Technology that will likely be Tesla's true commercial success. The cars have a limited consumer uptake potential. But battery storage for homs and commercial spaces has a near infinite level of potential for what Tesla and their pursuit of small scale battery storage technology will do is shift the the marketplace of solar and wind installations from energy generators with a use it or lose it, to a power system of produce it, park it, 'use it when needed' true power systems. 

Having already proven an ability to shrink the need for coal fired energy production to provide base load power around the world, the point is upon us where renewables can act as the stand alone production system with the advent of increased and enhanced Battery Technology. We are not there yet and are close enough for coal preferencing countries to be looking to place barriers on manufacturers and users of advanced battery technology to stop them leaving the 'dead coal walking' power sector. Those attempts are occuring despite the consumer's pyschological decoupling from price incentives - you can power up your phone or laptop easily and reliably (and cheaply) with a portable solar panel. Companies like Storelight make an LED light that uses a solar panel and an infrared switch that negates the need for electrical wiring in the home. Everywhere you look, technology efficiency is improving and consumer devices are more renewables friendly. The leap on our doorsteps that will enable the developing world to enhance their lifestyles, that is shifting consumers around the developing world, that will see the final nail in high polluting energy geneartion is battery storage.

So I'm delighted to declare 2015 to be the Internatonal year of Battery Technology

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