Let’s use PG&E to leapfrog the clean energy transition forward

PG&E

Last week,  Californians faced a new reality: widespread blackouts intended to keep PG&E’s aging infrastructure from sparking another disastrous wildfire.

The blackouts left more than 700,000 people without power, and many businesses and homes were unprepared. The very fact that shutting down the grid is the best solution the utility can muster in Big Tech’s home state is, itself, astounding. But the incident also shined a light on the limitations of the state’s progressive embrace of clean energy when that energy is fed into an antiquated and unreliable centrally managed grid.

Solar alone is not the answer

California continues to lead the U.S. in the transition to renewables with more than 25 gigawatts of installed capacity (2018). More than 6.7 million homes in the state are powered by solar. But nearly all residential and C&I solar panels are currently tied into the grid; when PG&E shut it down, those who self-generate their energy were impacted just as harshly as traditional users. 

A critical opportunity for solar plus storage

The silver lining to this debacle may be that it speeds up the clean energy transition, and specifically the shift to distributed energy resources (DER). Solar is already widespread in California, but many businesses just now learned that their solar array cannot supply electricity if the grid is down. Energy storage is already growing at a breakneck pace, having kicked off 2019 with 232% year-on-year growth in Q1. As the economics of storage continue to improve, deployments were anticipated to surpass 4.5 GW by 2024.

But we think that last week’s blackout will prove to be an inflection point that brings about even more rapid adoption of solar plus storage.

Preparing for the worst

Our customers in California, and across the country, know that climate change has wrought a challenging new normal where wildfires, hurricanes, and floods threaten their communities. Maintaining electricity during emergencies and ensuring operational stability for places like businesses, hospitals, or schools is both possible and increasingly economical when solar systems are retrofitted with energy storage.

Because of the falling prices of batteries and incentives like the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), it’s never been cheaper to break free of the grid.

Building a cleaner and more resilient solution

Energy independence, made possible by microgrids based on solar plus storage, makes homes, schools, and businesses safer. And avoiding a total power loss during  outages will mitigate some of the economic fallout of widespread blackouts.

The technology and the economics of DER have caught up to our emerging need for a resilient renewable energy solution—and not a moment too soon. Let’s use this moment to leapfrog the transition forward.

Jon Powers, president and co-founder