Solar helped save California’s butt last month. Will state officials finally get it?

During last month’s power outages, state officials desperate to put more power on the grid practically begged solar users with batteries to share the extra power stored in their batteries. The New York Times went behind the scenes this week to report the details.

Over 30,000 solar battery customers answered the state’s call for their stored energy. These folks delivered as much as 310 megawatts of electricity to the grid on August 15th alone.

Had state officials not acted at the last minute, solar users with batteries could have supplied over 500 megawatts of electricity each day to the grid. That could have replaced the energy from the natutral gas plant that stopped operating, according to the Times report. That could have prevented the power outages altogether.

The article is worth a read. Here are five takeaways:

1) Solar helped save California’s butt last month – even more than we previously understood. 

We already knew that California’s 1 million rooftop solar users helped allieviate pressure on the grid during the peak daytime hours. The below chart illustrates how much worse the power outages would have been on August 14th without rooftop solar.

The red line shows the load on the grid throughout the course of that day. The source is the state’s primary grid operator, the CA Independent Systems Operator (CALISO). The yellow line shows what the load would be without rooftop solar.

But this week’s Times report illustrates how solar helped in ways that don’t even show up on this chart. The 300 megawatts of energy that 30,000 battery customers delivered to the grid is small compared to the thousands of megawatts avoided from 1 million solar users. But it came during those critical evening hours when the sun was not shining and state officials were desperate.

We’ve been saying for a long time that if solar energy is a godsend, then solar plus battery storage is a total game-changer. This report is the most visible evidence to date of that fact.

2) Solar powered batteries are Flex Alerts on speed

A solar-powered  battery lets you store your extra solar energy to use when the sun isn’t out. For consumers, a battery can almost eliminate the need to use the grid. It can also keep essential lights and appliances running during outages.

But as the Times article notes, solar-powered batteries also reduce the strain on the grid. The solar installer Sunrun has installed 5,000 solar-powered battery systems in California. Those systems can actually work together as a “Virtual Power Plant” that can dispatch stored energy to the grid any time of the day.

Most of today’s solar is not paired with a battery, but that’s changing fast. Battery prices are declining at a similar rate as solar panels did ten years ago. In a few more years, battery storage will likely come standard with solar. Learn more about shopping for batteries

3) Relentless utility attacks on solar have slowed the growth of solar and battery storage

Utilities already see California’s one million solar rooftops as a threat to their monopoly. Nearly every utility in the state is engaged in some form of attack on rooftop solar. State officials and lawmakers have done little to stop them.

As we speak, PG&E, SoCal Edison and SDG&E and SMUD are pushing opinion pieces, hit piece videos and lobbying campaigns to disparage rooftop solar. LADWP has proposed punishing new fees on small businesses or schools who want to go solar. And every utility in the state lobbied two years in row to kill legislation that simply would have prohibited utilities from charging discriminatory fees on solar users.

All of this discourages consumers who are considering turning to rooftop solar and battery storage.

4) State officials have had several chances to make it easier for people to get battery storage. Most of the time they cave to utility lobbyists.

But just as problemmatic is the inability of state officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom on down to fully embrace local solar and battery storage as a key solution to power outages. Consider:

  • The LA Times reported recently that state may need as much as 25,000 megawatts of energy storage to meet all of the state’s energy needs over the next two decades. But energy regulators only have plans to build 3,300 megawatts of energy storage.
  • Most of the state’s current plans rely on the monopoly utility system to build and operate these battery systems. That’s right, the same monopolies that have so badly failed us.

Rarely do we hear state leaders talk about empowering millions of residents to install solar and batteries. That would be an awesome infrastructure project with a win-win-win for everyone. Residents, especially the poorest, cut their energy bills to zero. Power outages happen less frequently if at all. Pollution goes down.

This is not for lack of trying by solar advocates, who have been trying for years to pass bills to help reduce the cost of batteries and the red tape and regulations that discourage installations. For the most part, lawmakers and regulators have buckled to utility lobbyists.

5) The looming fight over net metering is where the rubber hits the road – and where your voice matters

Net metering is the policy that lets solar users give their extra solar energy to their neighbors and get credited for it. It’s the foundation of solar in California. And the utilities want to kill it.

State energy officials at the CA Public Utlities Commission (CPUC) have just launched a formal review of net metering. Done correctly, the CPUC would enact new incentives for residents to add a battery and be compensated if they share their extra energy to the grid during peak demand. We would also see aggressive action to reduce the thicket of regulations and obstacles that currently discourage the widespread adoption of solar and batteries.

Whether or not CPUC heeds the facts or buckles to business as usual will depend on your voice.

Learn more and take action: Tell Gov. Newsom and the CPUC to use the lessons of this year’s power outages to encourage more people than ever to adopt solar and battery storage. 



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