Frankenstorms Could Have Silver Lining for the Advanced Storage Industry

Cory is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Increasingly frequent storms sound great!

The DOE has estimated that over 8.2 million homes and businesses lost power after Hurricane Sandy. For a lucky few, diesel generators can keep refrigerators running and lights on until utility companies can make repairs. City dwellers aren’t as fortunate. Consolidated Edison (NYSE: ED) warned New Yorkers that the majority of Manhattan neighborhoods that lost power due to Hurricane Sandy could be left in the dark for as long as a week.

Fix it or you’re fired.

East Coast utilities should be paying close attention to the increasingly intense storms spawned by warming oceans. The freakish October 2011 snowstorm that left millions without power is still fresh in the minds of consumers, many of whom have been left in the dark again. Jeffrey Butler, former president and chief executive of Connecticut Light & Power, understands consumer rage all too well. Parent company Northeast Utilities System (NYSE: NU) accepted his resignation shortly after 77% of CL&P’s customers suffered outages last fall.

Advanced storage needs marketing more than it needs lab coats.

The advanced electricity storage and distribution industry has done a lousy job of promoting its best interests to the public. According to a recent survey from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, a majority of adults throughout the US have never heard of a “smart” meter. Only a precious few have the foggiest notion of what A123’s (NASDAQOTH: AONEQ) grid storage systems do.

A123 Systems’ $249 million DOE grant, followed by a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing a year later, is about the most publicity the advanced storage industry has received. Unfortunately, most of the attention is being hurled at the present administration’s reckless spending on seemingly useless technology. Many of the consumers that should be demanding distributed storage systems to limit the impact of blackouts consider it a waste of money.

Cooperation makes it happen.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is an opportunity for utilities to promote the benefits of advanced storage technology and smart grid automation to legislators, judges, and consumers. In Western Massachusetts, over 140,000 WMECo customers lost power after last fall’s nor’easter. In response, the Northeast Utilities subsidiary has added advanced automation and installed web-based tools to improve communication with customers. As of 6AM on Halloween morning less than 4,000 WMECo customers were without power.

Residential, community, and grid storage systems can go a long way to reduce the impact of increasingly frequent storms. Grid storage solutions should be a feature of nearly every power plant in the country. Most urban communities would also benefit from distributed storage systems that allow consumers to take advantage of lower off peak rates. It might be too late to save A123 from bankruptcy, but their battery technology will most likely live on through Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI). With the right spin, Hurricane Sandy could become a “rainmaker” for advanced storage companies across the US.


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