Executive Briefings

The Battery Will Kill Fossil Fuels — It's Only a Matter of Time

Three weeks ago, a U.S. agency sent the clearest signal yet that fossil fuels’ days are numbered.

True enough, the carbon-burning economy has been declared to be on its death bed umpteenth times before. But this came with a time frame related to the ultimate killer: the battery. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that so-called energy-storage companies such as Tesla Inc. and AES Corp. can compete against traditional power plants in U.S. wholesale markets by the end of 2020.

“This is a watershed event,” said Joel Eisen, an energy law professor at the University of Richmond, not unlike the time when regulators opened up the telecommunications market in the 1970s with rulings that ushered in the digital age by giving computers fair access to phone lines.

Batteries, once relegated to powering small devices like remote controls and watches, are now poised to energize the things most central to daily life, from smartphones to cars to entire homes and offices. And Big Oil’s taken notice. At CERAWeek by IHS Markit — an annual conference that drew some of the largest names in the world of fossil fuels to Houston last week — executives met to talk batteries, not once, but twice.

“The question is no longer if batteries will disrupt the power sector,” IHS wrote in a description of one of the discussions, “but rather how much and how fast?” (If it’s any indication of how the industry itself feels about this, the first of these sessions was held across the street from the actual conference, at a restaurant, and it was still packed.)

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True enough, the carbon-burning economy has been declared to be on its death bed umpteenth times before. But this came with a time frame related to the ultimate killer: the battery. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that so-called energy-storage companies such as Tesla Inc. and AES Corp. can compete against traditional power plants in U.S. wholesale markets by the end of 2020.

“This is a watershed event,” said Joel Eisen, an energy law professor at the University of Richmond, not unlike the time when regulators opened up the telecommunications market in the 1970s with rulings that ushered in the digital age by giving computers fair access to phone lines.

Batteries, once relegated to powering small devices like remote controls and watches, are now poised to energize the things most central to daily life, from smartphones to cars to entire homes and offices. And Big Oil’s taken notice. At CERAWeek by IHS Markit — an annual conference that drew some of the largest names in the world of fossil fuels to Houston last week — executives met to talk batteries, not once, but twice.

“The question is no longer if batteries will disrupt the power sector,” IHS wrote in a description of one of the discussions, “but rather how much and how fast?” (If it’s any indication of how the industry itself feels about this, the first of these sessions was held across the street from the actual conference, at a restaurant, and it was still packed.)

Read full article