The energy storage industry group has beefed up its leadership team as it prepares for a rapid scale-up of the companies it represents.
The Energy Storage Association hired Kelly Speakes-Backman as its first CEO, starting July 1. Executive Director Matt Roberts is moving to a new role as vice president for external affairs, where he will focus on messaging and strategic planning. Nitzan Goldberger also joined the leadership team as state policy director, coming from the policy shop at Borrego Solar.
The expansion comes shortly after Roberts announced an ambitious goal for the energy storage companies he represents: to deploy 35 gigawatts by 2025. The industry itself has posted rapid progress — the 234 megawatt-hours of capacity deployed in the first quarter of 2017 marked a 945 percent increase from the first quarter of 2016. Now the diminutive industry group is growing its infrastructure to follow suit.
Speakes-Backman jumps into the fray armed with experience as an energy regulator, as well as in private industry.
She served as the director of clean energy for the Maryland Energy Administration under Governor Martin O'Malley, before becoming a commissioner at the Maryland Public Service Commission. That particular PSC keeps popping up as a key player in clean energy leadership — other alums include Anne Hoskins, now chief policy officer at Sunrun, and Abby Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Prior to the government postings, Speakes-Backman worked as marketing director in the early days of SunEdison, and at several other energy companies, including Wartsila. She came to ESA from the Alliance to Save Energy, the energy-efficiency trade group, where she directed policy work.
That cross-cutting experience with solar, efficiency and conventional energy colors Speakes-Backman's approach to storage.
“Energy storage is the hub of all of these clean energy technologies that can help catapult us into a more modern, cleaner, more efficient grid,” she said in an interview. “I want to figure out how to get to this 35 gigawatts through practical implementation. Who do we need to coordinate with?”
That practical implementation will focus on two major hurdles: market access and recognition of value streams, Speakes-Backman said.
Short of a major revision to how energy markets operate, a simple but effective method is to get states to require a certain amount of storage procurement. The storage industry has seen several market-creation successes this year at the state level.
Massachusetts is expected to announce its storage capacity target in the next week or so. Also in the past month, Nevada legislators called for an investigation into whether it should set one, and New York legislators directed its Public Service Commission to set a target as well.
Each statewide success gives the ESA fodder to push more states to follow suit. First-mover California has been reaping the benefits of a homegrown storage industry; if other states move quickly to spur a storage market, they may enjoy the economic benefits as well.
Recognition of value streams takes more time, as it involves restructuring the way electricity markets function to create space for the multifarious roles storage can play. The ESA has participated in several regulatory proceedings on that topic.
The storage industry appears poised for rapid growth, but it's also converging with other clean energy industries. These days, almost all top solar developers are selling or pursuing deals with energy storage as well. GE, which powers one-third of the world's electricity capacity, began offering storage alongside its gas and steam generators, with solar, wind and hydroelectric coming soon.
Shepherding the young storage industry is no longer a matter of collating the needs of battery makers and developers. It requires diplomacy and engagement with potential allies across the energy spectrum. Now ESA has a new energy diplomat to lead that charge.
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