By Steve Christ
You may not realize this, but "the next big thing" is where it always is: right under your own nose. Because let's face it: "the next big thing" never springs from a vacuum. Instead, it comes from what is already surrounding us. The problem is most investors just don't realize it at the time.
How else can you explain the chorus of doubters that couldn't see what the personal computer would become in the 80s or the internet in the 90s? Yet there they both were, hidden in plain sight.
Fortunately for us, most entrepreneurs aren't exactly wired like most retail investors. They take risks, never knowing for sure whether the dream will end in the Promised Land or at the bottom of a cliff. Even still, they continue to pursue the dream.
In reality, it takes another development in a related industry to ultimately create the boom. After all, it took huge advances in chip technology to build a phone that can fit in your pocket; to put a laptop computer on your desk. In other words, it always takes a certain amount of synergy to produce the next game-changer. . . and when that happens, barriers fall by the wayside.
For investors, this means looking at how all of the parts might fit together, delivering the next block-buster product or winning trade. So where are the scattered pieces today that are going to deliver the next big investment of tomorrow?
They are found all over the place in solar power stocks. All you have to do is look.
Bullish on Solar Power Stocks
There is a bona fide revolution going on in solar power. And it's the kind of movement that is quickly beginning to disconnect the industry from the chains have that have shackled it to fossil fuels.
What's missing has been enough synergy to put it over the top. . . until now.
That's where, in a twisted path, beer comes in. You may or may not know it, but the Coors family makes batteries along with their ice-cold brew.
And for the last 10 years, the descendents of Adolph Coors have been working with scientists to develop a new generation of batteries that is small enough and safe enough to power your home-something of a holy grail for anyone looking to go "off-grid."
Paired with solar power, it's the definition of a game-changer. After all, who needs a "smart grid" when there is actually less power to transmit?
Battery Technology and Solar Synergy
Developed by Ceramatec, a subsidiary of CoorsTek (formerly part of Coors, now private), the new generation of battery can store 40kw of power in a package the size of a refrigerator for roughly $2,000. The average American household, meanwhile, uses 33kw. In short, it's a battery big enough to power your home operating at a peak temperature of 90 degrees.
Conversely, the lead acid batteries available today are a toxic stew of chemicals that operate at temperatures over 350 degrees. On top of that, they deliver half the performance at nearly double the cost.
Additionally, the Ceramtec battery can be recharged through 3,650 cycles — or once a day — for 10 years. Deep-cycling lead acid batteries last less than two years.
And while the implications of such a battery may not be readily apparent to you, the larger reality is these batteries make "the great disconnect" a real possibility as more and more homes go off grid using wind or solar power.
"Batteries and PV (photovoltaic) are about to merge," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, a member of Ceramatec's science advisory board. "First Solar is now saying that it takes $1 a peak watt to manufacture, and another 80 cents for installation. So they're saying that you can get PV for under $2 a watt. That's a reduction of cost by a factor of four. Only a few years ago, it was $8. If CoorsTek and Ceramatec come up with a good battery, the market will develop quickly."
When that happens, it will absolutely snowball. Safe power storage is what makes it all possible.
As for the batteries themselves, CoorsTek is only about six months away from producing a commercial product with a realistic schedule of delivering 1 million batteries a year.
"Once we have a working prototype battery with all the standards and cost requirements met, it will come up quickly," said Grover Coors. "It would scare people to know how quickly we can bring this up."
So while some may still have a hard time taking solar seriously in light of falling crude prices, their math may cause them miss the boat. Solar power, it now seems, is ready to leave the harbor. And when it does. . . it will have little or nothing to do with crude. Instead, it will be all about the synergy. After all, that's what ultimately delivers "the next big thing."