Check out our top three battery stock picks in 2017.
Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) has received the vast majority of media attention when it comes to the battery industry. Elon Musk has made big shows of his company's electric vehicles and energy storage products, which will both get batteries from the Gigafactory currently being built with partner Panasonic.
But there are a lot of other companies eyeing batteries as an opportunity to disrupt the energy industry. And a few of them may play as big a role as Tesla Motors in the future of EVs and energy storage.
If there's one company Tesla is watching closely in the electric vehicle business it's LG Chem (NASDAQOTH:LGCLF). The company has partnerships with Chevy, Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Volvo, and others building electric vehicles, and could be the largest EV battery supplier in a few years.
The General Motors (NYSE:GM) Chevy Bolt shows just how far LG Chem has come in creating batteries for EVs in the mass market. The car is now on sale at a cost of around $30,000 and a range of 200 miles. Those are figures Tesla Motors hopes to reach with the Model 3 when it launches nearly two years from now.
Chevy also revealed that LG Chem was producing cells for $145 per kWh, a surprisingly low figure that's already low enough to make electric vehicles affordable for the masses. This is a competitor that may be beating Tesla Motors in both cost and technology, which makes it a company to watch in 2016.
One of the largest lithium ion battery manufacturers in the world is Samsung SDI, and it wants to move from the small electronics market into electric vehicles and energy storage.
In the vehicle space Samsung SDI is small but growing. It bought Magna International's battery pack business last year, and recently agreed to a supply deal with JAC Motors in China. The company recently opened its own Gigafactory in China, which will create enough batteries for 40,000 EVs per year with plans to grow further. Look for Samsung SDI to be a preferred partner in the Chinese EV market.
The energy storage side of Samsung SDI's business is -- like the rest of the industry -- a work in progress. The company unveiled 5.5 kWh and 8.0 kWh residential and commercial energy storage units. That's slightly smaller than Tesla Motors' 7 kWh and 10 kWh Powerwall models.
Given the size of Samsung in the world of electronics, I think this will be a company to watch in energy storage for both EVs and grid storage in 2016. It could be a dark horse that comes to be a big player in the market, like it did in smartphone batteries.
The Germany-based battery company Sonnenbatterie has done something few people even know about: it beat Tesla's Powerwall to the U.S. market.
Sonnenbatterie launched a plug and play energy storage system late last year that will allow consumers to measure and control energy in the home. Management has said that a home with solar could meet 70% to 80% of its energy needs from self-generated electricity in a year and up to 100% in the summer.
As rate structures change to be more punitive to residential solar, it becomes more attractive to self-consume energy. That requires both a battery system as well as the brains to turn energy into monetary value.
Sonnenbatterie may not be a household name in the U.S., but it's a big player in the German energy storage market, where storing energy has been an attractive economic proposition for a few years now. As the U.S. market grows I could see Sonnenbatterie transferring what it learned in Europe to the U.S., especially if it can win some key partnerships with solar suppliers.
If you thought General Electric (NYSE:GE) was going to roll over and let newcomers dominate the future of energy storage, arguably the biggest change in the grid in a century, you are wrong. The company is bringing multiple energy storage technologies to the market, including flow batteries that have promise as a grid storage medium.
GE said it installed 90 MWh of energy storage between 2007 and 2015, and plans to accelerate growth this year to 65 MWh. Its management argues that GE's scale and expertise in electric infrastructure give it an advantage over smaller start-ups.
When it comes to utility scale storage, GE will be a company to watch. Wind and solar energy have both shown that bankable technology -- or technology with enough reliability that a bank will give you a loan -- is going to win even if it isn't the absolute best product on the market. Investors want low risk, and GE can bring that to the energy storage market.
An industry just waiting for a market
The energy industry is just starting to scratch the surface of the value energy storage can provide to the grid. Frequency regulation, demand response, load shifting, and avoiding capital expenditures on power plants are just a few examples where it may show value in the future.
According to GTM Research, energy storage in the U.S. alone will be a $1.5 billion market, nearly 12x the size of the market in 2014. The companies that can take advantage of that opportunity provide great potential for investors. And Tesla Motors isn't the only one to watch in the energy storage business.