In summary

Long-duration energy storage technologies will be an integral part of California’s renewable energy and climate change planning.

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By Julia Prochnik, Special to CalMatters

Julia Prochnik is executive director of the Long Duration Energy Storage Association of California,

The headlines are grim. Texas’ power grid fails in the midst of a deadly cold snap, putting millions at risk. A historic heat wave brings California’s power grid to its knees, putting millions at risk. 

Two massive states with two distinctly different approaches to energy, yet still facing a similar outcome: failure and blackouts. In both cases the cause is the same, a failure to plan for extraordinary climate events that are becoming all too ordinary.  

In principle, California has moved in the right direction by embracing renewable energy. But in practice, due in part to bureaucratic delay, it has fallen short and now California’s energy leadership is on a precipice. Move forward with bold action to deploy, procure and plan for a diverse and complementary portfolio of renewable energy and storage – and California fulfils its pursuit of a true green energy economy. Hold back and California cedes its energy future to fossil fuels. It should be an easy decision. 

The failures of California’s energy grid last August brought this important decision for the state into the forefront. Despite some of the misleading headlines, renewable energy was not the cause of power outages during last summer’s historic heatwave. It was a lack of coordinated planning. In fact, if the state had a more diverse set of clean technologies online including long-duration storage, we could have mitigated or avoided the outages altogether. 

That brings us to now and the need to plan for the extraordinary. California is facing what is likely to be another hot summer and the fear of repeat outages due to climate-driven extreme heat waves is genuine. The state – under enormous pressure to avoid a repeat of last summer – is authorizing contract extensions and expansions for fossil fuel resources, effectively mortgaging our future in exchange for some short-term reliability added to our grid. 

Instead of planning for the extraordinary by significantly accelerating deployment and procurement of clean energy, capacity and storage to reliably replace fossil fuels, the state is applying a dirty band-aid.

Yes, the state must look at the short term and make decisions to keep the lights on this summer. But that doesn’t mean the state should continue to delay getting renewable energy and storage projects approved and online. The extraordinary impacts of climate change are here, with millions of Californians impacted by fires, smoke and extreme weather. The extraordinary is becoming ordinary, and we must plan accordingly. The energy outages of August 2020 will happen again if the state doesn’t make long-term action a priority.

A clean energy grid is also a resilient and reliable grid. California can, and must, do better to facilitate the rapid and sustained development of thousands of megawatts of clean energy and storage. Several new long-duration energy storage projects have been proposed throughout the state that are ready to build and bring online. In addition to procuring more energy and storage, these projects come with the added incentive of helping the state’s economic recovery by creating thousands of good paying green jobs. 

But to make the kind of progress we need in 2021 and in the future, energy regulators must take action now to enable these projects – liquid air, zinc-air batteries, hydrogen, solar thermal and pumped hydro storage – to come online.

Our planning policies so far have not met the challenges of our new reality. Working with our partners in the industry and throughout our communities, long-duration energy storage technologies will be an integral part of the state’s renewable energy and climate change planning. That way, Californians can keep the lights on and meet the state’s climate change goals at the same time. 

The time for California to be bold is now. Our green energy future depends on it.

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