California again faces potential blackouts. This time it is tied to a natural gas storage facility called Aliso Canyon owned by Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas. The site's ability to deliver energy was crippled by a natural gas leak described as an ecological disaster comparable to the BP oil rig explosion. State officials worry that this key facility will not be able to deliver sufficient supplies to California’s natural gas generating plants during summer peak electricity demands.
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:
In today’s digital world, a blackout has a significant and often high cost. California is creating the commercial path for avoiding this cost. It may be on display this summer if state warnings of a potential blackout are realized. If this happens, then this blackout could launch another California clean-tech innovation into national awareness. It might be the event that accelerates the day when most homes and businesses in the U.S. have a solar-plus-battery power system.
Part two of this article will explore how California is pioneering the smart, lower-cost, cleaner and more reliable technology alternative to a monopoly electricity system.
Image credit: Flickr/Joe Wolf
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