By John Anderson Lanier
If you were to look back at all the blogs I have written (by my count, we are at 142), you might notice a trend. Besides being slightly whimsical and heavy on the Star Wars references, my blogs tend to be positive in orientation. I write a lot of “How cool is this?!?!” and “Here’s how sustainability is winning” posts. That’s mainly because I find lots of cool things and because sustainability is winning.
For instance, three weeks ago I could have written something like the following:
“Did you know that Mercedes-Benz manufactures batteries for home storage, and they are actively selling systems in the United States? That means that there is another player in the domestic market for residential batteries, vying for market share with Tesla’s Powerwall and Sunrun’s BrightBox. When coupled with solar power generation, these systems are proving the commercial viability of distributed energy at the residential scale. More competition will only drive prices down for consumers, accelerating the transition to renewable energy generation. Sustainability is winning!”
But if I had written that three weeks ago, I would still be wiping the egg off my face. Take a look at this article in Green Tech Media discussing the closure of Mercedes-Benz’s not-yet-two-years-old U.S. home battery subsidiary.
I share this news because it’s important for environmentalists to acknowledge each step back at the same time we celebrate every two steps forward. We lose our credibility if we trumpet sustainability’s successes and ignore its failures. And a major multinational corporation exiting the residential battery space so quickly is a step back.
The article explains what happened quite well. One challenge is that Mercedes-Benz’s batteries are engineered for vehicles, which go through a lot more wear, tear, and extreme conditions than homes do. The costs associated with being engineered beyond the needs of a home battery harm their ability to compete. Moreover, the demand in America for such systems is still nascent. For fully legitimate reasons, Mercedes-Benz wasn’t willing to be patient for the demand to pick up, and they likely should have simply stayed out of the market in the first place.
Let me be clear – I’m still betting on the long-term potential of residential energy storage (or at least I would be if you could bet on such things). Too much money is being invested across the globe in energy storage research and development. Someone is going to invent the next big thing, and the trend curve for Moore's Law will begin to apply to residential batteries. Admittedly, that last sentence still has a lot of “hope” baked into it (though not “a new hope” … teehee). But it is also very believable that batteries will eventually break through their current technological barriers.
And as that last sentence shows, I also abuse alliteration in my blog posts. It’s a trap for me I guess. Where is Admiral Ackbar when I need him?
(For non-Star Wars fans, that was another Star Wars reference, and you’re welcome. Here’s to more ridiculousness over the next 142 blog posts.)
John Anderson Lanier is Executive Director, Ray C. Anderson Foundation
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