Disruptive Innovation – Why Energy Storage is Crucial Infrastructure

From the inception of the Industrial Revolution several core ingredients enabled the transformation and growth of industry.  Among these core building blocks of the Industrial Revolution namely: access to risk capital, visionary entrepreneurs, available labor, technology, resources and energy.  Technology and energy play a crucial role in not only growing industry but enable scale.   Technology can open new markets and provide advantage through product differentiation and economies of scale.  Energy is literally the fuel that scales operations.

Today technology, built from knowledge and data, is how companies compete. Energy now emerges as even more integral in scaling operations. Just as James Watt developed the first steam powered engine in 1606 commencing the Industrial Revolution, it was the access to available coal with the use of the steam powered pump, invented by Thomas Savery in 1698, that allowed greater access to coal that gave scale to industry.

Most recently, the pending transaction of Salesforce’s (CRM) acquisition of Slack (WORK) after acquiring Tableau last year serves as a reference in valuing the importance of technology is to sustaining market value.  The market value of seven companies accounts for 27% of the approximately $31.6 trillion for the S&P 500.  Evaluating the industry and market impact of innovative technologies can be viewed through the lens of stock valuations, particularly as it applies to mergers and acquisitions.  This article reviews the companies and the technologies from the perspective of market sales opportunity and the economic impact of the technologies based on the price/performance disruption to the industry.

So why are we focusing on energy and data today?  Energy, predominantly hydrocarbon fuels such as oil, natural gas and even coal is how people heat their homes and buildings, facilitate transportation, and generate electricity to run lights, computers, machines and equipment. In addition, there is substantial investment focus on the digital economy, Environmental and Social Governance (ESG), and innovative technologies. A common thread among these themes is energy and data.

Data and Energy are the pillars of the digital economy. Energy efficiency can reduce carbon emissions, thereby improve ESG sustainability initiatives. Innovative technologies around energy and data are opening new markets and processes from formulating new business models to structuring and operating businesses.

The climate imperative and investing in energy infrastructure and environmental ESGs are predicted on energy efficiency and relevant performance metrics to evaluate investment allocation decisions. Therefore, our initial emphasis begins with a background on energy consumption with focus on electric consumption trends, carbon footprint, Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, sustainability, electric grid resilience, and technologies that impact energy including Electric Vehicles (EV), energy storage, and Autonomous Driving (AD).  Data technologies encompass cloud architecture, Software as a Service (SaaS), Machine Learning (ML) analytics, and the importance of data as the digital transformation gives rise to the digital economy. 

Digital Economy Performance Metrics

Before we dive into the financial and competitive analysis, let’s review business models that are disruptive to the status quo. That is are innovative technologies capable of rapid scale and efficiency gains that change the economics of the market and business profitability.  In addition, disruptive events, driven primarily by technology, often appear as waves as the adoption of innovative technologies expands through the market.

Prominent technological waves such as the personal computer (PC), followed by the internet and smartphones and most recently social media and cloud computer all manifested themselves in engendering new business models and creating new market opportunities that dramatically changed the status quo among leading companies at the time. We will use the internet and mobile technology waves to explain how the introduction of innovative technologies offering vastly improved means of commerce enabled the development of new services that changed the business landscape.

Most recent advances in technology appear as waves and give rise to new business models and markets. The internet is one example. The internet enables the connection and process of communication over a new channel.  The internet allowed one-to-one and one to many communications and the ability to engage, transact and scale using a digital platform that tremendously lowered the cost of engagement. Scale is among the most important attributes of the internet because the cost of digital replication is close to zero.

Mobile and smartphones began a new era in the digital world.  The smartphone allowed a large portion of the world to interact with the internet for the first time on a mobile device. The mobile wave provided platform that enabled the introduction of a host of new business models.  The introduction of the Apple iPhone gave way to several new services and industries all from your cell phone.

Let’s review the business model impact of innovative technologies as it applies to cost structure.

Cost Structure and Disruptive Innovation

As explained by ARK Investment Management’s Catherine Wood, the rate of cost decline can be used as a proxy for evaluating the disruptive impact of innovative technology. Cost structure improves as unit production expands. As first postulated by Theodore Wright, an aerospace engineer, who postulated that “for every accumulated doubling of aircraft production, costs fell by about 20 percent”. Wright’s Law as it is now known is also called the Learning Curve or Experience Curve and it is found across industries that experience different rates of declining costs.

What is important from the perspective of investment firms such as Ark is that the magnitude of disruptive impact can be gleaned from these declining cost curves. Revenue growth can then be correlated from these declining cost curves. Essentially, demand elasticity and future sales can be derived from the rate of product cost declines. 

This is why price/performance and scientific metrics play an important role in evaluating products, services and company competitive positions. For example, the average cellular price per gigabyte (GB) of data is approximately $12.37 in 2020 according to Small business trends. Another example in science, is the physical performance of an LED light assessed by lumens the light output to the amount of energy consumed in watts such as lumens/watt (Lm/W). These metrics are points in time. For more context, the changes over time and magnitude of change provide insight into inflection points, trends, patterns and relationships.

As devices become complex, encompassing separate processors for communications, computing, power, video and various sensors, it is the integration and orchestration of the overall device performance that becomes of greater value to the user. So, price/performance, scientific understanding and economics become more attuned to relationships among these varied and interdependent components.

TAM Expansion Attribute

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Mega Trends Thematic Research and Analysis

As digital transformation grows, underlying technology platforms become a core differentiator for key players. Our research reveals that current market leaders need to identify and embrace important new technologies now and adapt to the continuous emergence of new innovative platforms — often through M&A activities. In our full report, we take a look at significant technology disrupters and identify key players to watch.

Two overarching themes, data and energy, inform our approach; and our core premise that drives our innovative technology analysis is that as more commerce commences over digital platforms, more energy is consumed and more data is generated. This lens enables us to identify important emerging trends as well as obstacles to progress; while sorting out the technologies and firms most likely to emerge as winners going forward.

Importantly, our ongoing research reveals that there is also a confluence of interactivity between classes of technology that results in cross dependencies, correlation, cross pollination and scale that creates nuances within each segment. It is our implementation of data collection and analysis between segments, comprehensively addressed in our full report, which adds the insight required for confident decision making. Order your copy now.

In our full report, we identify some of the sectoral trends fueling the new digital economy and the innovative technology companies creating value in our research. Let’s break it down by sector:

 Energy Storage – is the key differentiator for electric vehicles (EVs) and the end-to-end mobility solutions of the future. It also plays a vital role in energy efficiency and resiliency. Energy storage is a core technology to address energy efficiency; critical to controlling carbon emissions, grid resiliency, and providing EV charging solutions. Energy storage systems have substantial benefits for energy consumers, including: industrial, commercial, public, and households. From cost reduction to business continuity and equipment protection, proper energy management delivers significant business efficiencies. There are, however, associated high switching costs for energy storage to be considered. Our focus in our full, in-depth report includes thorough analyses of Plug Power (PLUG), Ballard (BLDP), FuelCell (FCEL), Bloom Energy (BE) and QuantumScape (QS)

Cloud Architecture – another key sector we examine, provides a very cost-effective means of providing separate layers of data storage, computing and transactional services to enterprises and agencies where reliability, scalability and availability are critical to performance and the maintenance of a competitive edge. Virtualization services enable separation of hardware and software as well as method for separating data from control planes. Innovative tools including Databricks and recent IPO Snowflake provide scale and data integration to manage cloud services and data analytics. Our focus in this niche includes Alteryx (AYX), Datadog (DDOG) Palantir (PLTR) Splunk (SPLK) C3.ai (AI) and Snowflake (SNOW).

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Green Econometrics: Important Trends To Watch In 2021

Digital Transformation Becomes The Top Priority

by Charlie McHenry, COO, Co-Founder

The pandemic, and to a lesser extent, global climate change are accelerating digital transformation in business, industry, agencies and non-governmental organizations. This transformation is also a transition – to a new way of doing business on all levels; to a new way of looking at the impact and footprint of our business and personal activities; and to a new normal, that is not likely to look a lot like what we’re used to. This coming year will see a number of existing trends accelerate, and new developments which will underlie and drive major changes in business and operational models. 

This report will look at a number of industry sectors, as well as the impact of digital transformation on the public sector. In depth reports on each of these sectors are available by yearly subscription for $950 by request. 

We have to start somewhere, so let’s take a look at the rather dramatic and emblematic transformation now taking place in the automobile/truck manufacturing sector. 

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Why Visual Data Analytics: Discovery, Innovation and Opportunities

A data analytics framework is applicable to insight discovery; provides a roadmap towards innovation; and enables capabilities that can optimize approaches to new business models and opportunities. The following paper provides examples revealing how and why to apply visual analytics for discovery, innovation and evaluating new opportunities. 

Discover how waveforms and patterns are applied to science and finance, and how customer usage patterns can reveal new approaches to market micro-segmentation and persona classifications.  Lastly we’ll reveal how the deployment of IoT devices across the enterprise fuels data flow in the physical world regarding the performance and conditions of business assets.

Introduction

Our theme is applying visual data analytics as a tool for discovery, innovation and evaluating market opportunities. We show how two metrics, price and volume, are able to convey insight and establish price targets for technical analysis. Why energy consumption patterns and waveforms lend themselves to understanding science and classifying human behavior.  How proxy metrics can serve as measures for physical events. Why linking granular visibility into processes and the monitoring of conditions and operating performance help build an advantage in the digital economy.  

Green Econometrics relies on visual analytics as a core fabric in our data analytics frameworks because visual analytics are integral to discovery, innovation and new opportunity development. Visual insights are easy to understand – allowing business objective and performance metrics to seamlessly transfer across business units. So how do we do it?

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Should we be Concerned over Elevated CO2 levels?

With the oppressive heat and appalling humidity along the Eastern Seaboard, one considers the possibility of climate change and the impact of that greenhouse gases may have on our environment. Without developing statistical regression models to gleam any semblance of understating of carbon dioxide’s impact on climate change, let’s just look at some charts that illustrate the changes of CO2 levels though history.

While industry experts and scientist debate whether elevated CO2 levels have an impact on climate change, the scientific data taken from ice core samples strongly suggests CO2 levels have remained in a range of 180-to-299 parts per million (PPM) for the last four-hounded thousand years. Scientists have developed models to suggest that rising CO2 levels contributes to global warning which are subsequently followed by dramatic climate changes that lead to periods of rapid cooling – the ice ages.

Scientific theories suggest that rising global temperatures melts the Polar ice which allows substantial amounts of fresh water to enter the oceans. The fresh water disrupts the ocean currents that are responsible for establishing a nation’s climate. As oceans warm near the equator, the warmer water travels towards each of the Polar areas. The cooler water near the Polar areas sinks and travels towards the equator. These ocean currents allows for stable climates. The issue is that fresh water is less dense because it is not salty like seawater. Therefore, the fresh water does not sink like the cold salinated seawater thereby disrupting the normal flow of the ocean currents.

Figure 1 CO2 Ice Core Data – illustrates the level of CO2 over the last four-hounded thousand years. The Vostok Ice Core CO2 data was compiled by Laboratoire de Glaciologie et de Geophysique de l’Environnement.
Ice Core Data

Figure 1 CO2 Levels – Vostok Ice Core CO2 Ice Core
Source: Laboratoire de Glaciologie et de Geophysique de l’Environnement

If this Ice Core CO2 data is correct, then the current data on atmospheric CO2 levels is quite profound. CO2 data is complied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The latest trend indicates CO2 levels for June 2010 are at a mean of 392 ppm versus 339 in June 1980 and 317 in 1960. Clearly these CO2 levels are elevated. The question is what is the impact on our environment.

Aside from the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the dire need to find an alternative to our dependence on oil, should we not accelerate our efforts to find an alternative energy solution and as a way to mitigate the impact of CO2 on our environment? Maybe investment into alternative energy could help solve multiple problems.

Figure 2 Mauna Loa CO2 Readings  Mauna Loa
Source: Source data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The bottom line is that we need to consider the possibility that elevated CO2 levels in our atmosphere could potentially have a detrimental impact on our climate. In any event, limiting our dependence on fossil fuels, the main contributor to CO2, should be paramount. Let us not forget oil is supply-constrained – there are no readily available substitutes aside from electric vehicles, and without a strategy to embrace renewable energy, supply disruptions will have a painful impact on our economy, national security, and environment.

Energy Perspective

After reviewing oil data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Global Petroleum Consumption , it may be helpful to put energy consumption into perspective. Most of us are quite familiar with alternative energy such as solar and wind, but the reality is, even if solar and wind could supply all of electric energy needs, the majority of our energy needs is still predicated on access to oil.

While industry experts and scientist debate whether more drilling will ameliorate the energy challenge we face, let’s look at a couple of data points. Figure 1 US Oil Field Oil Production and Drilling Rigs – illustrates that higher drilling activity as measured by Baker Hughes Rig Count data does not necessarily correlate to more oil production as measured by US Oil Field Production by the EIA. Higher drilling activity does not produce more oil.

Figure 1 US Oil Field Production and Drilling Rigs US Oil Demand
Source: Energy Information Administration and Baker Hughes research

Despite the large investment in drilling rigs that more than doubled from 1,475 in 1974 to over 3,100 in 1982, US oil production remained relatively flat. Moreover, even the most recent drilling expansion activity that again more than doubled from 1,032 rigs in 2003 to over 2,300 rigs in 2009, resulted in relatively flat oil production, suggesting that on the margin unit oil production per drilling rig was declining. Perhaps even more disturbing is that the most recent drilling activity in the US was accomplished through extensive use of technology. Seismic imaging technology is being used to better locate oil deposits and horizontal drilling technologies are employed to more efficiently extract the oil, yet oil production still lags historic levels. While on the margin, newly announced offshore drilling could add to domestic oil production, extraction costs of oil will continue to rise adding to further oil price increases.

However, what is most profound is our dependence on oil for most of our energy needs similar to how wood was used for fuel construction material during the 1300’s and 1600’s. If we translate energy consumption into equivalent measuring units such as kilowatt-hours, we can compare and rank energy consumption. Although electricity is captured through consumption of several fuels most notably coal, a comparison of energy usage between oil and electric provides an interesting perspective.

Figure 2 Energy Perspective – provides a simple comparison of the consumption of oil and electricity measured in gigawatt-hours (one million kilowatt hours). A barrel of oil is equivalent to approximately 5.79 million BTUs or 1,699 KWH and the US consumed approximately 19.5 million barrels per day equating to 12 million gigawatt-hours a year. The US uses 4 million gigawatt-hours of electric energy annually. The critical point is that even if solar and wind supplied all of our electric energy needs, it would still only comprise 30% of our total energy needs. Therefore, without an energy strategy that facilitates migration towards a substitute for oil, particularly for transportation, we are missing the boat.

Figure 2 Energy Perspective Oil
Source: Energy Information Administration and Green Econometrics research

It’s not all doom and gloom. Technologies are advancing, economies of scale are driving costs lower, and the economics for new approaches to transportation are improving. From hybrids and electric vehicles benefiting from advances lithium-ion batteries to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles getting 600 miles on a tank of fuel. These advanced technologies could mitigate our addiction to oil, however, without formulating an energy strategy directing investments towards optimizing the economics, energy efficiency, environment, and technology, we may miss the opportunity.

The bottom line is that oil is supply-constrained as there are no readily available substitutes, and therefore, without a means to rapidly expand production; supply disruptions could have a pernicious and painful impact on our economy, national security, and welfare.

Energy Storage – the Key to Alternative Energies

Energy storage enables the electric generated though solar photovoltaic devices or wind turbines to be used when it’s dark, cloudy, or calm. As Nathan Lewis, Professor of Chemistry, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Lewis Group at California Institute of Technology, framed it, energy storage is integral in facilitating the development of alternative energy programs.

While hydrogen fuel cells offer future promise to our energy storage needs, battery technologies could provide some immediate results. As with all technologies there are tradeoffs.

There are several competing approaches to battery development. Among these approaches include the lead acid, nickel metal hydride, and lithium-ion cells.
Lead acid: batteries are the oldest approach and are typically found under the hood of your car or truck. Nickel metal hydride batteries have been around for more than 25 years and are used in hybrid electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. Lithium-ion cells have been on the market since 1991 and are used extensively in cellular phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras.

There are several issues in dealing with batteries such as environmental, economic, power, safety, and useful life. Lithium-ion cells possess many advantages, but incidences such as laptop computers erupting into flames, leaves many concerns for applicability in motor vehicles. Despite the setbacks, lithium-ion technology could provide solutions to the electric vehicle.

Why is this battery technology important? Solving the energy needs of the motor vehicle has profound implications in solving our energy needs. Nearly 70% of our oil consumption is direct towards transportation essentially motor vehicles. Without a dedicated strategy to address the transportation market and specifically the automobile, our progress towards energy independence is an illusion.

There are several issues with the nickel metal hydride batteries currently used in hybrid electric vehicles. Nickel metal hydride batteries are heavy, bulky, require large storage space in the vehicle, and don’t offer great acceleration. Lithium-ion offer power, size, and weight advantages over nickel metal hydride batteries, and numerous companies are working to improve performance and ameliorate the negative connotations associated with flaming laptops.

One of the basic concepts in dealing with batteries is the measure of battery energy versus battery power. The amount of battery energy refers to endurance, how long will the battery last and is often measured in ampere-hours or watt-hours per kilogram of battery weight. The amount of power refers to the energy draw and is akin to delivering acceleration in an electric vehicle.

The following figure illustrates the measurement of battery power and energy. Lithium-ion batteries are differentiated in their ability to bridge the power and energy tradeoff.

Figure 1 Battery Power vs Energy
battery

For home renewable energy projects such as solar or wind energy deployment, it is often recommended that a deep-cycle battery be used. Deep cycle batteries are able to draw down 70%-80% of their full power, offering longer energy life than a typical lead acid battery. In addition, newer materials such as Gel batteries and absorbed glass mat (AGM) that are sealed, maintenance free, and can’t spill, and therefore, are less hazardous. For a tutorial on home use batteries visit
BatteryStuff.com

An interesting perspective on battery design is presented Energy vs. Power by Jim McDowall. For a primer on how batteries work visit presented Battery Power The premise is that there are tradeoffs between designing a battery for high power versus high energy.

Research conducted at Stanford University suggest the battery life of lithium-ion batteries could be extended through the use of Nano-technology. The bottom line: energy storage is paramount to sustaining the development of alternative energies and battery technologies play a critical role in energy storage and further expanding the role of alternative energies.