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Bill Gates’s energy fund is laying its first bets, and they’re on grid storage


Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates–backed $1 billion fund announced in late 2016, has finally made its inaugural investments into a pair of promising energy storage startups. 

The details: The fund, established to make long-term investments into the technologies necessary to transition to clean energy, has provided $9 million to Form Energy and joined a $6.4 million funding round for Quidnet Energy, Quartz has reported

Form Energy, created through the recent merger of Verse Energy and Baseload Renewables, is attempting to develop “batteries that are capable of producing reliable grid power from renewable sources around the clock, and cost at least five times less than where lithium-ion batteries are likely to plateau,” as MIT Technology Review previously reported. Specifically, it’s developing aqueous sulfur–based flow batteries, although the researchers are exploring other chemistries for batteries designed for different durations, cofounder Yet-Ming Chiang said in an interview last week.

Quidnet offers a new twist on the biggest source of energy storage today: pumped hydroelectric. But instead of relying on a pair of reservoirs at varying heights, an approach that is geographically restricted and environmentally disruptive, the company is pumping water down into either abandoned or freshly dug wells.

Why the investments matter: Renewable sources of energy like solar and wind are plummeting in cost, but they still ebb and flow too much for us to rely on them without other sources backing them up. In order for these clean sources to become the centerpieces of our energy grid, we’ll need more affordable forms of long-term storage, far better transmissions systems, or both. For all the promise of lithium-ion batteries, they’re still far too expensive to store enough energy at the necessary scale.