OPINION

Energy Storage Can Help California Avoid Major Blackouts

The power outages impacting hundreds of thousands of Californians serve as a reminder of how we need to modernize the grid and make it more resilient. With the help of Congress, that modernization could happen even faster.

Energy storage is an essential component of a secure, resilient, low-carbon and cost-effective electricity future, and California is at the epicenter of this change. Not only does storage support the deployment of renewables and create jobs, it can also provide key options for flexibility and a smarter way to make households and businesses resilient to grid disruptions.

The good news is California is making progress. ENGIE Storage has deployed battery storage systems at more than 80 schools in California, including the Bay Area. In 2016, Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District became the first school district in the United States to install solar, electric vehicle charging and energy storage at one campus.

Most recently, seven schools in the Downey Unified School District installed ENGIE battery systems to save over $5 million on their electricity bills. The next logical step is for stakeholders to work toward solutions for such facilities to have islanding capabilities and back-up power in the case of such power shutdowns.

Here is where Congress can help, along with state lawmakers here in California. Solar and wind have seen promising growth over the years, thanks in part to federal tax incentives that lowered barriers to market entry. The investment tax credit for solar has already been one of the most successful national clean energy policies in history, helping California build a workforce of solar employees that now comprises 42 percent of all electric generation sector jobs in the state.

The same can be accomplished in the energy storage industry if it’s included as an eligible stand-alone technology for the ITC. Proposed federal legislation — the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act — to extend these tax credits to all energy storage projects would help the state and nation take a huge step forward.

ENGIE Storage could extend those benefits to a wider set of California customers, reducing the strain on local electric infrastructure, making it more resilient and ultimately saving millions for all ratepayers. Most importantly, storage could prevent the forced outages that impacted so many homes and businesses and canceled classes for thousands of students this week.

Right now, only a subset of storage projects paired with solar can qualify. Frankly, it wasn’t a critical issue 10 years ago. But today, energy storage isn’t only about solar: It’s about modernizing a grid with all its resources — one that already has 34 percent of renewables on our system in California. With more and more renewable sources connecting to our electricity system, and the threat of forced blackouts in California continuing, it’s time to level the playing field for storage.

Support for storage has broad, bipartisan support at all levels. In fact, 22 California state lawmakers — including Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins — recently submitted a letter to U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation supporting the bill.

Energy storage isn’t just about working with solar energy where the sun shines during the day. Now it’s more about modernizing the grid to be more resilient, efficient, sustainable and affordable. It’s about keeping the lights on and at the same time enabling California to achieve its landmark SB 100 law to be carbon-neutral by 2045.

 

Kelly Speakes-Backman is the CEO of the U.S. Energy Storage Association. Walker Wright is head of policy at ENGIE Storage, an ENGIE North America company.

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