Pasadena Star-News: There’s energy behind state bill to promote solar power storage

July 7, 2017

By Jim Jenal, Stephanie Wang and Dan Jacobson

Here in another California heat wave, we are reminded that communities need new strategies to be resilient as we face erratic shifts in our climate.

By harnessing our state’s abundant sunshine, so we can tap into it even when the sun isn’t out or during a prolonged outage, energy-storage technology can boost community preparedness efforts.

Many of your neighbors — and perhaps your family — have economically installed rooftop solar panels thanks to state subsidies and tax rebates that encourage it. But home storage of the electricity generated remains highly expensive, on the order of $30,000.

That’s why it’s so important to for the state Legislature to pass a bill that would encourage storage in the same way we’ve successfully encouraged solar panels.

Energy storage is a key innovation that can enable our march toward 100 percent renewable energy. Through energy storage, California can absorb the solar power we already produce during the day and use it at times when the state otherwise turns to dirty fossil fuels to meet our electricity needs. Energy storage also allows our residents, businesses, and schools to take control of their electricity bills and ensure they are using clean, locally produced renewable energy.

Energy storage can involve a number of technologies, such as lithium ion batteries or flow batteries, or thermal energy storage used to store energy from a generation source, such as a solar PV system, for use at a later time.

Energy storage technologies give customers and utilities the ability to control the flow of electrons in an efficient manner, effectively solving the problem of the intermittency of renewable energy and allowing for an ever-greater reliance on renewables. When the sun is shining, a solar energy system can recharge an on-site storage device. Then, when the sun goes down, the storage device can be used to meet evening and night-time electricity demand.

With the right incentives and controls, storage devices can be highly flexible and dynamic, storing and/or discharging electrons to the grid. In this way, storage technologies are among the most important and effective tools for grid operators to increase use of renewable energy and build a more resilient and reliable system.

We must ensure all Californians, especially families living in underserved areas, benefit from our clean energy revolution. If an incentive existed to encourage installation of energy storage, low-income renters could save more money at home with solar energy. Locally, properties like Mosaic Gardens in Whittier, which already has solar panels installed, could benefit from such incentives.

Adding energy storage at affordable housing developments that already have solar power will do more than just boost electricity bill savings for residents; it will also diminish reliance on the electricity grid, reducing the need for fossil fuel plants that are disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities.

Solar energy already employs more than 100,000 Californians, and pairing it with energy storage helps both industries flourish. As energy storage is inherently local, it will create good local jobs and promote economic opportunity in our communities.

With Los Angeles County set to launch its own power agency to offer renewable energy directly to customers, energy storage would help this effort deliver more savings and more jobs.

The bill moving through the Legislature, Senate Bill 700 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would slash the price of energy storage through a tiered rebate program to help this technology go mainstream, just as solar power itself has. If approved, the law would promote energy storage with a focus on disadvantaged neighborhoods and affordable-housing communities.

By reserving at least 30 percent of funding for low-income and underserved Californians, SB700 would keep energy costs stable and predictable for families that are most vulnerable to price spikes. The bill also contains local workforce training and hiring components so that the proliferation of energy storage can create economic development throughout the state.

SB700 offers a technology-neutral solution to increase the amount of storage to solve for the grid issues California faces and unlock the solution to getting more renewables across the state. We cannot afford to wait as we increase our commitment to renewable energy. Energy storage technology is ready to efficiently absorb the renewable energy we already produce and allow for the expansion of clean, local solar power.

As California takes the national and global stage on our climate change leadership, SB700 wwould ensure all Californians reap the benefits of clean energy.

When the next epic heat wave comes, we need to be ready.

Jim Jenal is founder and CEO of Run on Sun in Pasadena. Stephanie Wang is policy director of the California Housing Partnership. Dan Jacobson is state director of Environment California.

Read the op-ed on the Pasadena Star-News website