Bill Gates and Peter Thiel back energy storage

If you search for “energy storage” on Twitter you can count on a good dozen or so tweets being published every hour. But if you were online last night, you would have been getting several a minute.

The reason? Bill Gates and Peter Thiel (the co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor smart enough to put money into Facebook) are putting USD$37.3 million into LightSail Energy, a three-year-old start-up helmed by Princeton graduate school dropout Danielle Fong, who could not attract government investment for the project.

The news was hot. Links to articles in the New York TimesWall Street Journal and Forbes were being posted left right and centre. LightSail has a variation on compressed air energy storage that overcomes several problems associated with the technology, particularly the fact that heat generated during compression is captured and not wasted, unlike with other systems.

In comments posted on a Wall Street Journalblog, Fong claims that the final product will be around 70% efficient. The investment is good news for energy storage, of course. But the high-profile nature of the investors is even better news. As well as generating a lot of short-term buzz, it could go some way from exorcising the ghost of solar firm Solyndra, which got through a billion dollars of investors’ money, as well as $500 million in public funds, before going under.

As we reported only last week, venture capital (VC) investors seem to have developed a real phobia about energy storage over the last 12 months. With Gates and Thiel on board, perhaps the VCs could fall in love with energy storage all over again.

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