The energy storage market is a battlefield, littered with the corpses of failed newcomers that underestimated how deeply entrenched lithium-ion technology would become.
We’re talking 95 per cent entrenched, a market position growing stronger as demand for electric vehicles, wireless devices and cordless tools rise. Costs continue to plunge, with “gigafactories” and “Chinafication” driving the same economies of scale that turned solar photovoltaic panels into a commodity.
This has researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worried about “technology lock-in.” Their fear, outlined in a recent white paper, is that lithium-ion has become so dominant that it is preventing newer, better battery chemistries from getting funded, gaining market traction and achieving the scale needed to survive, let alone compete on cost.
Why the concern? Because lithium-ion batteries, great for use in Teslas and iPhones, fall short as a storage solution for solar and wind energy, for balancing supply and demand of electricity on the power grid, or for helping big power customers avoid costly peak-time charges by shifting their energy use.
Yet this is what they’re increasingly being used for, not because they’re the best batteries for the job, but because mass production has turned them into the cheapest.