Everyone knows what a battery does. Just plug it in and it provides the power to make something go. Lately, some people have been taking batteries in an entirely fresh direction—one that expands our understanding of what batteries can do when they’re used in ways that go beyond conventional boundaries and applications. From an anticipatory point of view, the strategy is to go in the opposite direction if you want to see new, innovative applications and solutions. And that can lead to revolutionary breakthroughs as well as game-changing opportunities.
From Cars to Communities
Tesla has been revolutionizing the automotive industry since 2003 by heading in the opposite direction from all the other car manufacturers. Instead of combining gas or diesel engines with batteries to create a hybrid, it eliminated the combustion engine altogether by using only electric motors powered only by batteries in its ever-expanding line of vehicles. Recently, the company has been shifting the energy playing field yet again by employing batteries in ways that go beyond a clean source of power for automobiles.
For example, in early January, Tesla unveiled a system composed of some 400 batteries in Southern California. The installation’s function is to capture electricity from the existing power grid during the day and return it to the system at night as dictated by consumer demand.
The system, which is capable of powering roughly 15,000 homes for up to four hours, provides more than just a boost in the overall amount of available consumer energy. It’s also part of an emergency response to anticipated energy shortages stemming from a potential leak at a natural gas storage facility—a stark and somewhat ironic contrast between old and new technology.
Tesla isn’t alone in its foray into batteries supplementing electric power grids. Arizona Public Service Co. is testing a $2 million battery system at a Phoenix-area facility. Not only is the system targeted to meet the demands of nighttime consumers running air conditioners to cool the desert heat, but it may also offset power drop-offs when clouds pass over the company’s array of solar panels.
Battery Repurposing as an Opposite Strategy
Tesla’s use of its batteries in a non-automotive setting isn’t just a way to put batteries to new use. As one industry observer noted, it also represents how rapidly Tesla is moving to transform itself from a luxury electric carmaker into a multifaceted clean energy company. And if you look at another new Tesla offering, solar shingles, you can see that the company has chosen to be the disruptor rather than being disrupted, by using Hard Trends to identify opportunity and drive innovation.
From the standpoint of my Anticipatory Organization Model, it’s even more significant than that. One of the central elements of any anticipatory organization is a willingness to pursue and apply opposites—in other words, to go in a completely different direction from both the norm and that of competitors. I refer to this as the Law of Opposites.
When I put on my anticipatory hat and apply the Law of Opposites, I can see opportunity everywhere. For example, the Toyota Prius first went on sale in Japan in 1997 and was available at all four Toyota Japan dealerships that year, making it the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. In 2000, it was introduced worldwide, and from that point on, many other automakers have produced their version of hybrid cars. As those cars age and their batteries no longer create the energy needed to power assist a car, there will be thousands of batteries to recycle. What is the opposite of that? Don’t recycle them, reuse them, since their ability to produce power is good enough for many commercial and noncommercial uses.
Applying the Law of Opposites is a valuable strategy in the environment in which we live today. In an era where innovation is an imperative, looking where no one else happens to be looking allows you to see what no one else can see and unlock enormous opportunities.
And that doesn’t translate into mere change. Rather, it represents out-and-out transformation—a completely and utterly new way of doing and looking at things.
That certainly applies to the forward thinking behind the use of large-scale batteries in power systems. For one thing, from an energy supply standpoint, it’s an equalizer, balancing out the availability of power from nighttime to daylight hours.
But another attribute is even more important from an anticipatory perspective. Power plant batteries capable of storing energy address a lack of reliability with regard to both solar and wind power. Although both those sources are considered growing major sources of power for the future, they can be impacted by short-term changes in weather conditions, be they cloud cover or a drop-off in wind speed. Batteries can step in to offer much-needed backup when conditions require it.
The future of batteries underscores a powerful truth. When everyone is looking in one direction, looking elsewhere can make all the difference between merely meshing with the status quo and introducing significant, widespread transformation.