Selected category: Energy

Local Solar can be good for all Neighborhoods

Grid AlternativesSolar power in California has, in many ways, been an unparalleled success: the state has more solar power installed than the rest of the country combined. There are more solar workers in California (55,000) than working actors or utility workers. Solar workers earn a higher than average wage, and the industry is making strides in employing more women, veterans, and people of color. And, the median income of households installing solar in California in 2012 was between $40,000-$50,000, mostly middle- and working-class homeowners.

But there are two sides to this story because, unfortunately, solar power is still inaccessible to many low-income households.

Take my neighborhood of Boyle Heights, on the east side of Los Angeles, for example: over 70 percent of residents are renters and cannot install solar on roofs they don't own. For those who do own their homes, many can't afford to purchase their own solar system (the median income is just over $33,000) or don’t qualify for traditional financing. Residents here have captured a paltry $0.33 per capita in solar incentives over the past 15 years, as compared to Bel Air (yup, that Bel Air) which received almost $200 in solar incentives per capita – over 600 times more than Boyle Heights. Read More »

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Driving the Last Spike: Linking California’s Electric Grid to Extend Clean Energy’s Reach

East_and_West_Shaking_hands_at_the_laying_of_last_rail_Union_Pacific_Railroad_-_Restoration“When the connection was finally made the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific engineers ran their engines up until their pilots touched. Then the engineers shook hands and had their pictures taken and each broke a bottle of champagne on the pilot of the other's engine and had their picture taken again.” 

          –  Alexander Topence on the scene in Promontory,                   Utah in 1869 after Western governors drove the                    “last spike” of the Transcontinental Railroad.

These are good times for clean energy in California. A decade of visionary policymaking, a motivated private sector, and copious sunshine have joined together to reduce the cost of solar in the Golden State by 90 percent.

We already produce more solar energy than any other state. And thanks to a new law Governor Jerry Brown signed last month, SB 350 (De León), California has committed itself to yet another ambitious clean energy goal: 50 percent of electricity in the nation’s most populous state will come from renewables by 2030. Solar is a central part, among others, of California’s strategy to meet this new target.

Amid all this optimism, fast solar growth poses challenges as well. A lot of it has to do with timing. Read More »

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The Future of Energy Storage is BYOB

batteryBy: Michelle Zheng, Clean Energy Intern

Before the U.S. electric grid became centralized under utilities and independent system operators, it consisted of unorganized and unconnected generators. As distributed energy resources (DERs) – such as rooftop solar, energy storage, and other generation sources beyond large power plants – find their way into (and onto) more homes and businesses, it’s clear the grid’s future has a lot in common with its roots. This time, however, an array of new technologies will help us take advantage of a more decentralized approach.

But are utilities ready to handle this change? Although some are eager to try, the answer under most current utility business models is a resounding “no.” This is because current business models promise utilities profit for putting more steel into the ground and selling as much energy as possible – the exact things DERs help avoid.

Despite all this, can we find ways for utilities and DERs to be friends? We think so. Meet the “Bring Your Own Battery” (BYOB) model. Developed by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and collaborators at Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab Accelerator, it capitalizes on the emerging movement of customers bringing their own batteries to the grid. What’s more, it creates a role for the utility to facilitate rather than fight the expansion of DERs.

Read More »

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A Stealth Tool to Modernize the Electric Grid

Cyber-securityElectricity regulators, clean energy innovators, and rappers have all lamented poor communication. And some have pushed for cleaner, cheaper, more reliable solutions for meeting our energy needs. This is particularly so with the much anticipated emergence of a new kind of non-event based, price-responsive demand response (DR), or flexible DR.

Whereas traditional DR signals customers to voluntarily and temporarily reduce their energy use at times when the electric grid is stressed, this type of DR does that and more. The big difference? It signals customers, their appliances, and their electric vehicles to increase their energy use when electricity is clean, plentiful, and cheap.

For example, electric vehicles can be programmed to charge at mid-day when the sun is bright and solar energy is at its peak, and use that stored energy when the sun sets. Better yet, many of our cars, homes, and appliances can be programmed to monitor grid conditions in real time, via the Internet, and respond accordingly by charging or defecting. Also known as a “set-it-and-forget-it” feature, this function enables the seamless integration of flexible DR while also supporting the full potential of energy efficiency measures and distributed energy resources (DERs), like rooftop solar and energy storage. Read More »

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California’s Latest Legislation is a Paradigm Shift for Energy Efficiency

By: Matt Golden, Senior Energy Finance Consultant

800px-US_Navy_111007-N-KV696-016_An_advanced_metering_infrastructure_smart_meter_monitors_energy_consumption_near_the_Catering_and_Conference_CenterAs California races towards a clean energy future, not only do we need new aggressive goals for all sectors, but we also need to rethink how we manage distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar and customer side energy storage. This is particularly true for one such resource, energy efficiency.

Two weeks ago, the California legislature passed a number of clean energy related bills including SB 350 (De León), a bill that sets the state on a path to achieve Governor Brown's ambitious clean energy goals. The governor’s “50/50/50” plan aims to increase electricity from renewable sources to 50 percent, reduce petroleum use by 50 percent, and double building efficiency by 2030.

Most media reports have focused on the bill’s ambition to increase the renewable portfolio standard and energy efficiency goals, and some observers have expressed justified concern about items left on the cutting room floor (the petroleum use reduction target). But there has been little discussion of the bill’s most important provisions – those that address how energy efficiency will be measured and delivered going forward. Read More »

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California Utilities Plan for a Cleaner Electric Grid

California’s “big three” utilities are taking importasolar instalnt steps toward achieving a clean energy future – one in which we will better utilize renewable sources of energy, give customers more choice and control, and keep the state on course to cut pollution.

One way they are doing this is through Distribution Resource Plans (DRPs). Signed into state law in 2014, DRPs are roadmaps for California’s investor-owned utilities – including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric – to incorporate more distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar and electric vehicles, onto the grid. Each investor-owned utility in California is required to develop a DRP, and the big three submitted their initial plans on July 1, 2015 – a milestone in and of itself.

Upon analysis, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) sees the DRPs as a considerable step in the right direction. However, there are aspects of the plans we think could be improved to ensure California’s electric grid is able to take full advantage of already existing and future distributed energy resources.   Read More »

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