Charlie Blair is the Managing Director of Gravitricity, having joined in 2015 following his tenure as Head of Marine Energy in the Carbon Trust’s Innovation Team.
Gravitricity is developing a gravity-based system of energy storage, which involves suspending heavy weights in disused mine shafts. When extra power is needed, the weight can be dropped to generate energy.
What does your organisation do and how is it challenging the industry status quo?
Gravitricity is developing grid-scale technology that stores electricity from the grid and releases it back by raising and lowering heavy weights in deep vertical shafts. Initially, the shafts will be existing mineshafts. Later on they’ll be purpose-sunk shafts exactly where long-life storage is required. That’s when our concept gets really disruptive.
With fast-response, long-life and versatile energy storage like ours on the grid we simply do not need fossil fuel generation. Wind, solar and marine can do it all, and the grid-flows will look very different to how they look today.
Why is this disruptive model critical for tackling environmental challenges?
Without energy storage, all the progress we’re making towards electric transport, electric heating and renewables will come to a juddering halt. Durable, flexible energy storage is a core facilitating technology for shifting to a zero-carbon economy.
How do you build public support for rapid disruption of established business models?
I think public support is overwhelmingly in favour of dumping fossil fuels and replacing them with clean energy and EVs. This is a disruption that many in the West won’t even notice – the lights will still come on at the flick of a switch.
In poorer countries our technology enables a leap-frog opportunity when it comes to the grid, potentially helping to avoid the need for large fossil fuel assets. So for half the world, it will be a powerful and positive change.
How do you think the business world is going to change by 2050?
I think there’s a bit of a divergence between the software revolution in the energy world and the hardware requirements, which sometimes get overlooked. The late tech-guru John Perry-Barlow once told me San Francisco needs to re-focus on gigawatts alongside the gigabytes.
I think there’ll be a re-focus on hardware in many industries, not just energy, once the software and big data advances slow down.