And at $250 per kWh, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts automakers will be able to build electric vehicles that would be competitively priced in comparison to conventional cars, but with much lower fuel costs. With an eye on a future where there’s a Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or the like in every garage, utilities and carmakers are beginning to test vehicle-to-grid systems where EVs’ big battery packs are enlisted to back up the grid.

Powering Ahead

Innovative startups and companies from outside the utility sector are leading the shift towards smart storage. It’s not that utilities won’t play a big role here, but historically they tend to follow, says GreenTech Media smart grid analyst Zach Pollock. “Utilities’ adoption of nascent technologies is typically constrained by cautious regulators, conservative cultures and long budget cycles.”

And maybe that’s okay. Smart storage offers a rare opportunity, says Rittershausen. “We can do a project that makes a profit, saves the consumer money and reduces inefficiency,” he adds. “If this is done right it makes sense for investors, end users and utilities too.”


UPDATED 03.02.13: This article has been updated to remove reference to the cost of energy storage declining to $300 to $600 per kWh by 2020.