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⚡ The Future of Energy Storage

Watt It Takes

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Emily Kirsch
Guest: Ramya Swaminathan | CEO | Malta
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:41] EK: “Malta is building an electrochemical battery that converts renewable electricity into heat. That heat is stored in molten salt and then converted back into electricity when it's needed on the grid. It's like a giant version of the heat pump in your air conditioner using commercially available off the shelf parts.”

[1.59] “Energy storage, at its most basic level, is really about taking energy from a time where its marginal value is low, and moving it to a time where its marginal value is high. We do this [by] using batteries, for example, in our mobile phones all the time. So when we're home and near the outlet, we plug in our phones, the marginal value of one additional electron at that time is pretty low. So we take it, we charge our phones, load up the batteries, and then later when you're out and about the marginal value is very high of that electron, because otherwise you would not be able to run your phone. So at its most basic level, all energy storage does that and Malta certainly does.”

[9:15] “When we started, it was actually called Free Flow Power, [which] was the predecessor company. And we started as a hydro kinetics development company. And when I say hydro kinetics, what I mean is the generation of power from moving water, but no damming, no impoundment. So we were looking really the riverine environment of the Lower Mississippi River, which drains 40% of the North American continent. And we had an R&D arm that was developing a turbine generator specifically designed for this application, which is ultimately an exercise in harvesting small amounts of power over large amounts of areas. So you need lots of turbines to generate power. And I think particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there was a lot of excitement in the Lower Mississippi region for energy security, energy independence, resiliency, etc. And so we really felt like we were on a mission to create not only green power, but also to offer these virtues of energy independence, security, reliability, particularly for remote areas right alongside the river.”

[10:20] “In many ways, it was a very difficult fundraising environment, as you can imagine, in the context of the financial crisis. But perhaps even more difficult ultimately, to deal with that business was the gas crash. […] The alternative, the need to find alternatives to gas really sort of evaporated from a fundamental economic analysis point of view. But in the process of doing that, what we had also discovered was that the opportunity set in hydro in the United States was enormous. And the headline number is really kind of shocking. There are 79,000 dams in the US, and only 3% of them have power. So there was this enormous opportunity to put hydro on existing dams. […] So from an environmental perspective, extremely benign, and we were actually successful in getting a lot of large environmental groups to agree with the prospect of creating green energy from an extremely benign application of hydro power, which, traditionally, […] there definitely has been some controversy about the environmental impacts of creating new dams, and new impoundments.”

[11:36] “And so that opportunity set was large, we were able to land our first round of institutional funding in 2010, with US renewables group laying around into that company. So moved away, there was a pivot away from the original hydro kinetics focus to conventional hydro […] and existing dams. And by 2015, Free Flow Power by that time had morphed into Rye Development for a variety of reasons. […] By 2015, we had also discovered and really felt enthusiastic about the prospect of pumped hydro storage. And so we had expanded the mandate from just conventional run of the river hydro to pumped hydro storage. And we're pursuing a few very large projects in the Pacific Northwest, which are actually doing really well even today.”

[35:30] “[The] issue of coal plant shutdowns is resonant globally. In some cases, it's driven by policy mandates. Germany, for example, has announced that it will be exiting coal by 2038. And in other places, it's just that inexorable logic of the economic condition. Coal is expensive relative to wind and solar, which are clearing auctions, […] really, really low prices. And so in that context, we're seeing everywhere globally, that coal plants are shutting down. And one of the reasons that that is a powerful force politically, is because there's a lot of dislocation in that context. And so, from my perspective, one of the things I'm most excited about […] is the opportunity to really characterize in reality […] the energy transition as being a fair transition, a people centered transition, by taking advantage of the opportunity to use a site that had been used for a coal plant. And to put a multisystem there […] and employ all the same people in terms of the jobs. Thereby limiting, maybe eliminating the job loss that comes along with this dislocation. […] And so we are super excited at the possibility that Malta represents the third door in any potential conflict between labour and green. Our idea is that it doesn't need to be a conflict and that the transition can be people centered.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "Malta CEO Ramya Swaminathan")
🕰️ 48 min | 🗓️ 08/10/2021
✅ Time saved: 46 min

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