November 6, 2019 Read More →

PG&E power outages prompt new impetus for renewables

San Francisco Chronicle:

Facing the prospect of a decade of PG&E power shut-offs, Bay Area programs that buy energy for local communities are pushing for more solar-powered backup batteries to survive blackouts before next fire season hits.

The goal is to install batteries in around 6,000 homes and hundreds of businesses in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, with a focus on low-income residents and those with critical medical equipment that’s dependent on electricity.

East Bay Community Energy, which buys green energy for Alameda County, is joining with several similar programs — Peninsula Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Power and Silicon Valley Clean Energy — to ask solar companies for proposals to install battery systems in more buildings, with the programs buying the energy that’s produced.

Across Northern California, residents, businesses and municipalities are scrambling for alternatives as PG&E proves more unreliable. Last month, San Francisco bid to purchase the utility’s infrastructure, which was promptly rejected. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo wants to create a customer co-op utility and help people’s lights to stay on through renewable energy microgrids — isolated pockets of electricity supply and demand that can stand alone from the rest of the grid. And residential solar companies reported a spike in interest and sales before and after PG&E outages.

More than 30,000 East Bay Community Energy customers have solar systems, but not all have batteries to store the energy for nights and cloudy days. Many people have bought gas-powered generators in response to the outages, but they produce carbon emissions and can pose risks if they are not installed properly.

Experts acknowledge solar systems aren’t yet affordable for everyone. “They are historically on wealthier individuals’ homes,” said JP Ross, senior director of programs for East Bay Community Energy.

The state offers subsidies and, under East Bay Community Energy’s current solar program, low-income customers can get reduced rates. Depending on what proposals the group receives from solar companies, the new battery storage program could have cost savings too, Ross said.

More: PG&E outages prompt clean energy programs to focus on solar, batteries

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