Founder & CEO
Revolutionizing the Energy Storage Sector
In the late 1980s, Oklahoma City, like much of the oil patch, faced an economic downturn. Tough times demanded innovation, especially for those like Gary McCormick, owner of a contract engineering firm specializing in commercial HVAC systems and father to a young, observant Kent McCormick. Gary's ingenuity in designing thermal storage systems, shifting energy usage to capitalize on electricity rate fluctuations, laid the groundwork for what would become Kent's life mission: revolutionizing how we use energy.
Kent grew up in the family business, where he absorbed lessons in resilience and innovation. Summer days in high school were long and hot, troubleshooting machinery and remote monitoring systems. In that time, Kent developed a control system for a first generation energy storage system his father had designed – making ice with cheap electricity and using it for cooling large buildings when electric air conditioning would be expensive. These early experiences not only instilled in Kent a robust work ethic but also sparked a curiosity about energy's intricate role in our daily lives. He began to see that not all energy is the same. How you make it, when you get it and when you use it make a big difference.
His journey to innovation began in earnest at Rice University in Houston, the world capital of the energy industry. There, surrounded by the buzz of energy debates and technology advancements, Kent's interest in the sector deepened. Yet, it was at UC Berkeley, where he earned his PhD in Physics, that his path began to crystallize. Specializing in low temperature physics, Kent delved into the scientific underpinnings that would later become crucial in his quest for a sustainable energy future.
Post-academia, Kent's career trajectory took him into the realms of business and technology. At McKinsey & Co. and later at Dell-EMC, he honed his skills in data management and business strategy. These formative corporate experiences aided Kent when he co-founded Lattice Engines, a SAAS business that delivered predictive marketing and sales cloud applications to business-to-business companies, using software developed by Kent. Over 16 years, he and his partner grew Lattice Engines to a company with 120 employees and $30 million in annual revenue. Lattice Engines was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet in 2019 and it was time for something new.
The success of Lattice Engines did not quell his ambition – it fed it, allowing Kent the time to focus on an urgent societal issue. Initially interested in desalination to mitigate California’s persistent drought cycles, he quickly realized that if you were going to use renewable electricity to power desalination, you could only run your plant when the sun was shining – unless you had energy storage available for the other hours. It was a eureka moment. The thermal storage systems he had known since childhood could be pivotal to unlocking renewable energy’s great potential. The pace of climate change was accelerating, and time was of the essence. The prevailing industry sentiment was still resistant, questioning the viability of renewables. The critics were loud and influential, arguing that the dependency on intermittent sources threatened the stability of the energy grid.
Kent saw things differently. He envisioned a future where renewable energy could be harnessed effectively and efficiently, without the crutch of legacy fuels. He knew that wind and solar energy were the cheapest and cleanest energy sources available if they could only overcome the Achilles heel of intermittency. The key to all of this was in affordable energy storage which would lead to renewable power as the new firm dispatchable power.
Drawing upon his experiences in the family HVAC business, his scientific study at Berkeley and his entrepreneurial background, Kent set out to develop an energy storage solution that was not only sustainable and efficient but also economically viable. Photon Vault aimed to transcend the limitations of existing technologies like lithium-ion batteries, which were plagued with issues of degradation, environmental impact, and reliance on volatile supply chains.
However, the path to innovation was anything but smooth. Kent faced a gauntlet of challenges, from technical hurdles in developing a new technology to securing funding for something that hadn’t been built before. There were always people who were quick to doubt that it could be done. He lost count of the blank stares looking back at him from prospective investors. Kent's resolve was tested time and again as he navigated the intricate maze of R&D, patent filings, and prototype development.
Collaborating with Byron Viets, his friend, colleague at Lattice Engines and now Chief Information Officer at Photon Vault, Kent explored various avenues, consulted with experts, and endured numerous trial-and-error cycles. Each failure brought with it invaluable lessons, and each breakthrough, no matter how small, fueled their determination.
The culmination of this relentless pursuit was the completion of several unique components that together make the Photon Vault. Each was tested, redesigned and tested again, until each was ready to be commercialized and had been built into Kent’s first integrated prototype. This prototype was more than just a demonstration; it was the manifestation of years of perseverance, a revolutionary symbol that could redefine the future of renewable energy.
Today, Photon Vault stands as a testament to the power of innovation against entrenched skepticism. It is a beacon of hope in the quest for a sustainable energy future, proving that with vision, expertise, and unwavering determination, even the most daunting challenges can be overcome.
Kent McCormick's journey from the family engineering business in Oklahoma City to the forefront of the energy storage revolution is more than just a success story. It is an inspiration, a call to action for future innovators to challenge the status quo, to look beyond the criticisms and doubts, and to strive for solutions that can truly make a difference in the world.