CalCharge chief Anderson discusses future of energy storage technology

As an essential component to the rapid expansion of renewables, energy storage technology innovation is a focus for companies, states and the federal government. During today's OnPoint, Jeff Anderson, president of CalCharge, a public-private partnership focused on innovating and commercializing energy storage technologies, discusses the challenges facing his industry as it quickly tries to meet growing demand in the United States. He also discusses the role energy storage will play in helping utilities comply with the emissions goals laid out in U.S. EPA's proposed regulations for existing power plants.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint, I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Jeff Anderson, president of CalCharge. Jeff, thanks for joining me.

Jeff Anderson: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Jeff, when we talk about renewables, we always hear that one of the key links in the chain is our ability to store energy when it's not in use, and that's where CalCharge comes in. You're a public-private partnership designed to advance energy storage technology in the United States; what is CalCharge's end goal?

Jeff Anderson: CalCharge's end goal is to be a center of gravity for the energy storage sector in California. California has kind of a unique challenge in that -- I think much to many people's shock -- we're actually already the largest energy storage cluster in the country. But what's been missing is that focal point that can actually pull it together and allow for the cross-pollination of ideas and the easier access to resources that's needed to advance commercialization.

Monica Trauzzi: So you have some pretty major corporate members, including Duracell and LG; what does this type of partnership mean for these large companies who arguably already have lots of resources at their disposal -- why do they need to be a part of this partnership?

Jeff Anderson: You know, we actually spent a lot of time thinking about that as we began to develop CalCharge. It was, "What was the value-add for all the key players who come together to support the development of the ecosystem as a whole?" And what we realized, actually, in that process was it really doesn't matter what size you are of company, you still have some fundamental common challenges. One of them is actually getting faster, easier, cheaper access to the resources you need. Whether you're LG, or whether you're a three-person startup, when you're developing technologies, a lot of times you have to go out and find the people and find the equipment to actually advance your IP development. That takes time and money.

Wouldn't it be easier to actually access what already exists, either in the universities, national labs or other companies, and buy time on that to advance your IP development? And so companies of all sizes can do that through CalCharge. And then we've also created a platform that allows them to work together to solve shared common challenges to work on those issues that aren't the secret sauce, but that they need to solve, and if they can solve them together, it's cheaper and easier and faster for them to get market with new technologies.

Monica Trauzzi: And what role has the Department of Energy played?

Jeff Anderson: The Department of Energy's been unbelievably supportive of the effort; we've been briefing them as we've been developing it. They actually created a platform for our launch announcement on April 17th at their Clean Energy Manufacturing Summit in San Francisco, and it was the main announcement by Assistant Secretary Danielson from the platform.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the industry as it rapidly tries to innovate?

Jeff Anderson: Hmm, that's an interesting one. It's a multi-headed hydra almost of challenges, and we actually tried to address a lot of them in the formation of CalCharge. So one of the challenges is that we have this unbelievable fount of innovation developing -- innovators coming out of the national labs, spinning out of big companies -- but once they're actually on their own and innovating, they almost tend to innovate in a vacuum, because there's no direct connection to the large end-users of their technologies that actually have problems and budgets that they want to use to solve them. And so just by creating the connections between emerging companies and large companies that CalCharge is enabling, we're actually addressing one of those problems.

Monica Trauzzi: So -- I mean this extends beyond California; this is a national issue and a national goal ...

Jeff Anderson: Mm-hmm.

Monica Trauzzi: So are you hoping that California provides an example for the rest of the country?

Jeff Anderson: Absolutely. While there's a "Cal" in CalCharge, we're not limited to California; our goal is to -- basically if we can make the California cluster -- the cluster of energy storage companies -- develop technologies faster and get new technologies to market, that will have national and global ramifications. And if we can develop new models for technology development, we hope those are transferrable and leveragable. If plagiarism is the most sincerest form of flattery, we want to be unbelievably flattered.

Monica Trauzzi: Mm. How far are we from commercially scalable energy storage technology that will meet the U.S.'s needs?

Jeff Anderson: You're already seeing it. I spent last week -- one of my days last week -- in the Central Valley, in a city called Turlock, where one of our member companies deployed the first megawatt-scale flow battery as a pilot. And they're actually fully integrated with 2 megawatts of solar and actually powering a irrigation pump in an almond orchard. And that's just their first test. And the technology, once it's proven in the next few months, is unbelievably scalable and deployable. And in California, with the 1.3-gigawatt energy storage mandate, you're seeing technologies across the swath of energy storage actually going to market right now. And all you're going to see is a faster uptake over the next few years.

Monica Trauzzi: So how does this conversation on storage work into the context of EPA's newly proposed emissions regulations for existing power plants?

Jeff Anderson: For 111(d)?

Monica Trauzzi: For 111(d).

Jeff Anderson: It's interesting, I was just at a conference right before this where that came up, and the consensus of the panelists -- and these included regulators and some of my peers and other trade associations -- is this will create new market opportunities for all these technologies. While it doesn't specifically require energy storage uptake, the fact that it's going to decommission a significant portion of the coal fleet and require other alternatives to be adopted, whether efficiency, demand-side management, adoption of renewables, energy storage is going to be a part of those solutions. And it's going to have a huge stimulus on the market.

Monica Trauzzi: Who do you consider your biggest competitor right now?

Jeff Anderson: For CalCharge? We all collaborate; we don't compete. No, but in seriousness, I think some of the groups I look to that actually -- I hope to emulate and their success -- it'd be hard to say enough positives about NY-BEST in New York, and the work that NYSERDA and the New York PSC have done to stand that up. They are actively creating all the right foundations for a thriving energy storage cluster in upstate New York.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there.

Jeff Anderson: OK.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show; nice to chat with you.

Jeff Anderson: Thank you. Take care.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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