Ted Lamm & Ethan Elkind, CALMATTERS
California’s electrical grid is getting cleaner, but it is still not well positioned to deal with a changing climate with its web of decades-old poles and wires.
As California communities confront the reality of emerging from coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, another inevitable crisis that also requires aggressive preventative action looms: wildfire season.
In the face of this persistent threat, we need aggressive integration of clean energy technologies to power a reliable and resilient electricity grid for our homes, health care systems, transportation networks and supply chains.
Californians are familiar with the ways that climate change is increasing our wildfire risk, with six of the top 10 most destructive fires in state history occurring in the past three years. California’s electrical grid stands in the middle of this increasingly complex predicament.
At least three of those fires were triggered by utility equipment, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which took 85 lives in the process of destroying 18,000 structures and the town of Paradise. 2019 brought widespread public safety power shut-offs and far less destructive fires throughout the state, but at the cost of new outage-related risks for vulnerable communities and residents – a trade-off we may be making for the next 10 years or more.
California’s electrical grid is getting cleaner, but it is still not well positioned to weather this changing climate. Today’s grid features a web of decades- and century-old poles and wires, even as the state obtains a record level of energy from cutting-edge solar and wind technology.
Continue reading “California’s looming wildfire threat requires a cleaner, more resilient electrical grid”
Cade Metz, WIRED
Tesla isn’t the only one building batteries for your home. As Elon Musk and company trumpet the Powerwall, so many other outfits, including Samsung and Panasonic and LG Chem, are fashioning similar devices that can store energy for use when the power grid goes down or grid prices rise. So many are saying that, when paired with solar panels, their batteries can further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which still provide so much of grid’s power.
All are nice thoughts. But questions abound. Do the economics of these batteries really make sense? Are they worth not only the cost but the hassle of installing them? Are they worth it even if you don’t have solar panels?The ultimate goal here is to create vast networks of home batteries, all fed with solar energy and other kinds of clean power.
Orison, a small startup based in San Diego, wants to show that the people really do want these home batteries. That’s why it’s offering a rather friendly version of the technology via a new Kickstarter campaign. The device is unusually small and light, weighing only about 40 pounds. You can install it on your own, inside the house, simply by plugging into an ordinary electrical socket. And you can get your hands on one if you contribute a mere $1,600 to the Kickstarter campaign.
The device stores only about 2.2 kWh of power—which would, say, run your TV for 5 hours. But you can install additional devices for only $1,100 apiece. And each is designed to blend with a home’s decor. You can choose a device that hangs on the wall or one that stands on the floor, and both models double as an LED light fixture. No, you can’t have one today. But the company says its batteries will ship this summer.
Read more at: The Home Battery You Can Install Yourself Is Coming | WIRED
Richard Martin, MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
Driven by the explosion of residential solar power, the market for home energy storage—which attracted little interest until earlier this year, when Tesla announced its Powerwall battery—is suddenly looking crowded.
This week at the Solar Power International show, in Anaheim, a company called SimpliPhi Power is unveiling a lightweight battery system for homes and small businesses that offers a longer life span than other lithium-ion batteries and doesn’t require expensive cooling and ventilation systems.
SimpliPhi’s bid comes a few weeks after another energy storage provider, Orison, released its design for a small plug-and-play battery system that, unlike the SimpliPhi and Powerwall options, does not require elaborate installation or permits for a home or small commercial setting.
Orison is not actually selling its products yet; the company plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to take pre-orders and expects to begin selling in early 2016. Its innovations center on the batteries’ controls and communication systems: simply plugged into a wall socket, the battery enables a bidirectional flow of electricity, charging itself when power is flowing and sending power into the home circuits when it is not.
The growing popularity of residential solar panels is increasing interest in batteries that could store electricity from those installations. In the future, such storage systems could benefit homeowners, by giving them more control over how and when they obtain the power they need, while helping utilities by shifting demand to off-peak hours and smoothing out the load on the system.
For the moment, despite Tesla’s splashy entry into the market, such batteries still generally remain too expensive and cumbersome for most consumers. SolarCity, the largest solar provider in the United States, began offering a combined solar and storage system using Powerwall this summer, but it’s available only in newly built homes for now. And earlier this year rival SunEdison acquired Solar Grid Storage, an integrator of solar arrays and energy storage—but it’s not yet clear exactly what that will mean for the market in home energy storage.
Read more at: Home Energy Storage Enters a New Era
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Los Angeles-based company has put a solar electrical system on a Sonoma County commercial building using a new approach that financially rewards property owners and requires no upfront costs of tenants.
Energy-Producing Retail Realty said its patent-pending business method has the potential “to disrupt the commercial solar industry.” It provides benefits for all involved parties, something that can be lacking in other commercial solar financing models, the company said.
“When the landlord is not paying the energy bill, it can be a disincentive to finance solar,” said Andrew Cameron, the company’s managing director based in Santa Rosa.
Energy-Producing Retail offers ongoing payments to owners who allow solar to be built on their properties. Tenants put no money down and can purchase the new power, typically saving 10 to 20 percent off their energy bills, said Cameron, one of the company’s four partners and a Healdsburg High grad.
And the returns on the solar project offer an “attractive” investment for investors, he said.
The four-year old company released a statement Monday unveiling its Next Level Solar program, which was based upon an installation of a commercial building here.
Solar installations on homes and commercial properties are increasing nationwide as businesses develop new financing models. Both residential and commercial owners now take advantage of no-money-down leases or of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, where the solar system is financed through government-approved programs and paid off on property tax bills.
Read more at: Santa Rosa building serves as launchpad for new | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Petaluma veterinarian Matthew Carter’s electricity bills reflect, caring for animals in a comfortable clinic setting is not cheap.
Carter, who co-owns Central Animal Hospital on D Street with his wife, is having solar panels installed on the roof of the business this week. He hopes to slash the clinic’s energy bills, which average about $800 a month, by about 80 percent.
And, economics aside, solar power, Carter said, “is good for the environment.”
Legions of Californians have turned to solar energy for similar reasons. But under proposals by the state’s three utility giants, rooftop solar power may become less of a good deal. The companies, including PG&E, are seeking to lower compensation rates to solar customers who supply excess power to the grid, and to also implement new “demand charges” for those customers.
The changes would cut the amount solar customers save on utility bills by an average of about $20 per month.
PG&E, which has connected more rooftop solar than any utility in America, argues the changes are needed to create a more equitable and sustainable framework for maintaining the electricity grid.
“We need to make sure the grid is robust and that it can accommodate that two-way power flow,” said Steve Malnight, PG&E’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs.
Solar companies, however, say the utilities are really seeking to dim interest in the fast-growing source of power for homes and businesses. Sonoma County alone has seen an 808 percent increase in the number of PG&E customers hooking up to solar in the past decade — and there are no signs of the trend abating.
Read more at: Proposal from PG&E, other utilities, seeks cut in | The Press Democrat
Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER
“The utilities were always convinced that they could throttle down solar just by tuning down the rebate they were offering. What caught them off guard was when costs came down to the point where we didn’t need their rebate for solar to make sense. Suddenly, they couldn’t control the outcome anymore. And suddenly you didn’t see any more solar billboards, and suddenly they started taking a hostile approach.” Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City
Mark and Sara Borkowski live with their two young daughters in a century-old, fifteen-hundred-square-foot house in Rutland, Vermont. Mark drives a school bus, and Sara works as a special-ed teacher; the cost of heating and cooling their house through the year consumes a large fraction of their combined income. Last summer, however, persuaded by Green Mountain Power, the main electric utility in Vermont, the Borkowskis decided to give their home an energy makeover. In the course of several days, coördinated teams of contractors stuffed the house with new insulation, put in a heat pump for the hot water, and installed two air-source heat pumps to warm the home. They also switched all the light bulbs to L.E.D.s and put a small solar array on the slate roof of the garage.
The Borkowskis paid for the improvements, but the utility financed the charges through their electric bill, which fell the very first month. Before the makeover, from October of 2013 to January of 2014, the Borkowskis used thirty-four hundred and eleven kilowatt-hours of electricity and three hundred and twenty-five gallons of fuel oil. From October of 2014 to January of 2015, they used twenty-eight hundred and fifty-six kilowatt-hours of electricity and no oil at all. President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to twenty-eight per cent of 2005 levels. The Borkowskis reduced the footprint of their house by eighty-eight per cent in a matter of days, and at no net cost.
Read more at: Solar Power for Everyone – The New Yorker