When most people think of energy storage, they probably think of Elon Musk and Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) splashy moves with the Powerwall and Powerpack. Panasonic, Samsung, and LG Chem are also eyeing the energy-storage market in one form or another, building out capacity that could supply an expected boom in lithium ion battery demand.
Lost in the shuffle is General Electric (NYSE:GE), a key supplier to the electricity market worldwide. The company builds everything from fossil-fuel power plants to wind turbines and the components that make up the transmission and distribution grid. And it may have some energy-storage solutions other companies just can't match.
Hybrid energy storage
Potentially the most meaningful energy-storage product GE released recently is a hybrid battery storage and gas turbine power plant. The product is designed to replace spinning reserves that are required to keep the grid functional as volatile wind and solar assets fluctuate in their output throughout the day. But instead of burning just natural gas to keep those reserves spinning, there's a battery acting as a buffer.
When the storage system is called upon, there's a 10 MW lithium-ion battery that will ramp up power quickly, with up to 50 MW of natural gas generation. GE estimates the system will result in fuel savings, reduce maintenance cost, and lessen greenhouse-gas emissions that are burned keeping spinning reserves available.
In this case, the battery isn't a massive energy-storage system the grid can call upon, such as what Tesla or AES Corporation are building. It's a buffer between the variable resources on the grid and the fossil-fuel plants that need to back up those resources.
Energy storage for renewables
In the future, it would make sense that either battery energy storage or a hybrid power plant will accompany major renewable-energy power plants. If GE paired a battery with its wind turbines or a hybrid power plant, it could add tremendous value to the grid, reducing the variability that grid operators have to deal with. Eventually, it could even pair these products with inverters it already sells for the booming solar market.
A few weeks ago, when I suggested that GE should buy First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), I mentioned that energy storage is the kind of product it could easily fold into its offering to make the solar product more valuable. And with GE trying to grow its inverter business, it would make a lot of sense to vertically integrate its offering with solar and energy storage.
Don't count GE out in the energy-storage war
GE may not get a lot of headlines in energy storage, but this is arguably the most dominant company in the electricity business today. GE has built about a third of the power plants in operation around the world today, and with energy storage becoming a valuable product for its grid customers, you can bet GE has its eye on how to best serve the market. Right now, a hybrid energy storage/gas turbine plant may be just what the grid needs.
Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar and General Electric. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.