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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Vast Aliso Canyon leak reveals need for increased natural gas oversight

rp_Tim-OConnor-Nov-2014-214x300-214x300.jpgMore than a hundred frightened local residents packed a room at the Porter Ranch Community School for three hours last week, looking for answers about the foul stench caused by a massive natural gas leak nearby. Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility has been leaking vast amounts of noxious gas into the air for two weeks, with still no end in sight.

Environmental health risks abound

The familiar rotten-egg smell of mercaptan – which utilities add to the normally odorless gas – hangs in the air for at least a mile, a pungent reminder of the potential health, safety and environmental risks of the uncontained airborne spill. Natural gas is mostly methane; a powerful pollutant that contributes to smog formation and global climate change, packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the Western U.S., operating under intense injection pressures and holding huge amounts of methane. 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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Cap and Trade under AB 32 – Now it’s an “Official Success”

By: Jonathan Camuzeaux and Tim O’Connor

iStock_000004415617SmallMany people have been following the AB 32 cap-and-trade program since it kicked off on January 1, 2013. After all, it’s the most comprehensive carbon market in the world; it has created billions in investments for pollution reduction in California communities and garnered intense international attention. Now, based on data showing the program has cut climate pollution during its first compliance period, the chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has dubbed it “officially a success.”

Under California’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program, the largest polluters in the state across all sectors must report their emissions every year. This data is then collected and counted by CARB. Yesterday, the agency released the final tally of the 2014 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions covered by cap-and-trade, and with data, we get the final word on what happened during the program’s first compliance period (for years 2013 and 2014). 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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