California’s next renewable energy goal: A million solar batteries

By Fran Pavley, Special to CalMatters

In 2006, California’s pledge to build 1 million solar energy systems on homes, schools, farms and businesses was visionary and audacious, but achievable.

By the end of the decade, we hit the million solar roofs milestone through a combination of smart government policy, a supportive business coalition and willing consumers.   

A new decade calls for a new goal: 1 million solar batteries by 2028.

California already generates more electricity from solar power than any other state. Though we still have a long way to go to reach our clean energy and zero-carbon goals, California continues to lead the way. 

Solar power remains a popular choice for lots of different types of energy consumers. But it is solar power coupled with battery storage, that represents a game changer for all of us. 

Declining solar costs, advances in installation experience and rapid innovation in energy storage technology make solar-charged battery systems a no brainer. We can transform our energy and climate efforts, while also benefiting state power grids and yielding savings for all consumers. 

Today’s batteries help homeowners and businesses store solar energy for use in the evening or during a blackout. This smooths out prices, relieves the electric grid, reduces air pollution and grants consumers self-reliance that is far better and cleaner than a generator. 

Bundled with solar panels, batteries store power for use in lean periods and mitigate peaks in energy consumption that are too often met with dirty and expensive fossil fuel power plants. They yield a more efficient, less expensive and cleaner electric grid for everyone’s benefit . 

Solar batteries are not only good for the grid, but good for individual consumers. Recent blackouts prove we need dependability when it comes to keeping the lights on. As a homeowner that lives in a fire prone area impacted by the dramatic increase of high winds, wildfires and power shut-offs, securing resiliency has become a real concern. Solar combined with storage allows homeowners, businesses, schools, emergency responders and water districts to rely less on the unpredictable grid of power poles to protect their communities.  

Everyone living in or near a fire prone community should consider solar battery storage. But so too should anyone in a community where energy stability could become disrupted by other types of climate impacts, or earthquakes, or human impact. An estimated $2 billion price tag on the economic loss during PG&E’s blackouts suggests increasing local storage capacity is a smart move for economic stability as well as energy reliability.

Bringing on 1 million solar batteries is a simple, yet revolutionary, way to attain California’s goal of 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Reaching 100 percent renewable energy is a big challenge that will take all of the smart solutions we have. When you combine electric vehicles, efficient homes and solar batteries the challenge starts to look possible. But you cannot get there without solar batteries. 

There is a path toward 1 million solar batteries. The Golden State’s success with a million solar roofs has set an inspiring example. Robust policies that protect and incentivize clean energy and energy storage choices are both urgent and visionary. Removing barriers to solar and storage use in homes as well as commercial buildings, farms and thousands of schools would strike at the heart of climate action and solutions.

Funding technical assistance for customers investigating solar and storage, and protecting net metering are imperative. We need to incentivize solar battery users and create clean energy policies that encourage adoption and reduce costs over time. 

If California is going to lead the way in halting the march of climate change, securing an increasingly unstable energy grid and helping people take control to keep the lights on, we must think boldly. A new million solar batteries initiative is poised to be California’s next energy breakthrough if we are willing to make it happen. 

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Former State Sen. Fran Pavley is Environmental Policy Director at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, [email protected]

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