California’s Pursuit for More Clean Grid Technologies

How California Blackouts Will Make Solar and Batteries A National Story

Triple Pundit, April 18, 2016. Image credit: Life-Of-Pix

Imagine islands of light fueled by solar connected to batteries

Here’s how solar and distributed generation could become national news this summer. It is 7 p.m., and Los Angeles is blacked out. It’s the third day of a blistering heat wave made more intense by global warming. People cut back on their air conditioning in the first two days in response to public service announcements to “save the grid.” But on that third evening, it was still over a 100 degrees from the valley to the beaches. Everyone decided they had to get cooler. Collectively they only moved their thermostats back down just a couple of degrees. But that was enough. The increased draw of electricity overwhelmed the grid. It automatically shut down because it just could not produce and deliver any more electricity.

But across LA, there are customers with power. They have lights. Even more importantly, they have air conditioning. Customers flock to these businesses. Neighbors walk over to ask their solar-powered neighbor about how they still have electricity.

The press see a media opportunity. Camera crews show up in front of the homes and businesses that have electricity because of solar systems connected to batteries. They ask questions about cost and find that these customers are actually saving money too. Then the reporters turn to the camera and ask, “Could this be the next iPhone-like technology breakthrough that California creates for all of us?”

California is also pioneering how battery systems can displace fossil fuel generation. California passed legislation in 2010 that mandates grid-scale electricity storage. In 2013, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) set a target for the state’s utilities to develop over a gigawatt of energy storage by 2020. In 2014, the CPUC overruled utility efforts at blunting or stopping customers from connecting their onsite solar system to battery systems. California also started a behind-the-meter battery incentive program. The combined result is that California has over 11 megawatts of behind-the-meter batteries representing 80 percent of the nation’s behind-the-meter battery capacity.

This solar-plus-battery push by California is being driven by three factors:

  1. Global warming public policy. The state’s leadership believes global warming is real and a threat to human and economic health. They are pursuing public policy that targets a 40 percent reduction in global warming emissions below 1990 levels by 2030.
  2. A focus on lowering customer electricity bills. California’s price of grid electricity is one the highest in the U.S. Counterintuitively, California’s focus is not on the price per kilowatt-hour, but on the size of electricity bills. This focus explains the state’s emphasis on energy-efficiency technologies and Zero Net Energy building codes. This focus explains California’s commitment to customer-owned solar. Now the state is pursuing battery technology as the next technological step for enabling cleaner, lower-cost and more reliable electricity.
  3. Economic growth. California is outpacing all other states in economic growth. Since the Great Recession, it has added more jobs than the entire population of Nevada or Nebraska or the combined populations of Delaware, South Dakota and Alaska. It is achieving this scale of economic development success while also reducing the state’s global warming emissions. From smart thermostats to solar to batteries, California is focused on selling its technology solutions to the world as part of the state’s economic development strategy.
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