(Chris Devlin) #1

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FORTUNE.COM // JUNE .1 .19


“flow battery.” If it works at scale, it could
provide up to about 10 hours of economic
storage—perhaps more, with bigger tanks.
Over the years, flow batteries have become
something of a joke in the energy world.
Myriad efforts to scale them up have
flopped, both because the technology has
been glitchy and because the fossil-fueled
grid hasn’t needed much storage.
Vieau’s bet today is that two fundamental
changes—better technology and plum-
meting renewable-energy prices—mean
past isn’t prologue. Solar prices have fallen
70% over the past decade. That, plus newly
cheap wind power, is boosting demand for
energy storage. At the same time, according
to Wood Mackenzie, the price of grid-scale-
storage systems—the batteries and the rest
of the kit necessary to set them up—has
fallen 85% since 2010. (See sidebar at left.)
Serious power players are now investing
in grid-storage technologies. One is Ex-
elon, which had 2018 revenue of $35.9 bil-
lion, is No. 93 on this year’s Fortune 500,
and has about 10 million customers. It is


experimenting with big batteries and is writing checks to Volta,
the battery-tech investment firm. Chris Gould, Exelon’s senior vice
president for corporate strategy, says the company has concluded
the shift to solar and storage will intensify and that Exelon can
profit from it.

R


EALITY CHECK: SO FAR, STORAGE provides only a tiny amount
of power to the grid. In 2018, according to Wood Mac-
kenzie, there was enough for about 6,000 megawatt-
hours of electricity. That’s for the whole world, and it’s
less than half the amount of electricity the Falkland Islands use
in a year. Even if the grid-storage market achieves the eightfold
increase in economic value between 2017 and 2024 that Wood
Mackenzie expects, it still will be just one-tenth the value of the
electric-car-battery market at that point.
Where it exists, grid storage typically is a creature of government
subsidies and mandates. And even given that support, it tends to
be concentrated in places, such as California and Hawaii, where
renewable energy enjoys maximal economic advantage: places
with particularly strong sun and wind and with particularly high
fossil-fueled-power prices.
What little energy storage is on the grid today generally amounts
to big racks of lithium-ion batteries. That’s a problem for the
world—and, Vieau hopes, an opportunity for Vionx. The lithium-
ion battery has cornered the market for movable things—toys,

LIQUID ASSETS


A device used
to test Vionx’s
flow batteries,
which rely on
tanks of chemi-
cals to help
store energy.

FORTUNE 500


PHOTOGRAPH BY JESSE BURKE