What if you created an industry and nobody came to work in it?
That’s a problem with the Bay Area’s energy-storage industry. We’ve got crowds of smart people with a lot of great ideas, but there is a serious lack of trained professionals to get the job done. The CEO of one battery startup recently told us he wanted to double his 40-member staff but couldn’t find people with the right expertise.
Failure to address this shortage would be extremely costly. Energy storage is a fast-growing and potentially transformative industry. The global market for consumer batteries (for handheld electronics such as cellphones and computers) is forecast to reach $55.4 billion by 2017. For electric cars, the battery market could reach $22 billion by 2020.
Energy storage is a linchpin of the emerging, multibillion-dollar clean-energy economy. The intermittent nature of wind and solar power makes storing energy in batteries essential to compete with fossil fuels, such as coal and gas. While current energy-storage technology still falls short of providing a level playing field for clean energies, it’s only a matter of time before batteries become genuine game-changers. That will boost global revenues even more.
The vast majority of batteries are made in China. Lithium-ion technologies invented in the United States followed the consumer electronics business to Asia. But California is now home to more than 40 mostly small companies capable of advances in design that could leapfrog over Asia’s lead. About 30 of those firms are in the Bay Area. What we need is a boost of brainpower to take back the battery industry.
We’re determined to seize this opportunity, which is why we recently invited business leaders, innovators, scientists, manufacturers, policymakers and other stakeholders to contribute to our plan for a “battery university.” We’re planning a curriculum to train a new labor force in a hurry through a partnership between CalCharge, a new nonprofit effort to catalyze the battery industry, and San Jose State, the top supplier of college graduates to Silicon Valley.
We’re still developing the classes scheduled to begin this summer. We’re talking with regional businesses to determine the industry’s most critical learning needs, test our concepts and hear about their vision of an ideal curriculum. We already know there’s a need for expertise beyond basic battery technology, including the ins and outs of national and state policies, finance, business models and the global market.
California has to compete for this piece of the cleantech economy. Michigan has received more than $1 billion in federal stimulus aid for its advanced battery industry supplying automakers. State officials there estimate the money will contribute to 63,000 jobs by 2020. Similar benefits could come to California.
Highlighting the importance of this topic, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, longtime chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and champion of clean energy who left office a few weeks ago, traveled to Silicon Valley to participate in a recent gathering of Battery U. stakeholders.
As America builds up its battery industry, the world’s high-tech capital should be center stage. Our bid to become ground zero for U.S. battery innovation has begun.
Jeff Anderson is interim executive director of CalCharge, an energy-storage innovation accelerator, and managing director of CalCEF, a group of organizations focused on a clean-energy economy. Ahmed Hambaba is associate dean of graduate and extended studies in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San Jose State. Venkat Srinivasan is head of the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources groups at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They wrote this for this newspaper.